Random Notes

Random stuff from my head. If you want more fully formed thoughts, please visit my blog.

🦟 iOS 14.5 Subtly Breaks the Shortcuts Wallpaper Action


iOS 14.5 dropped mere hours ago, and unfortunately I’ve already found an annoying bug in Shortcuts. But fear not, because if this issue afflicts you too I have a workaround!

The Wallpaper action allows a Shortcut to set either the lock screen or home screen wallpaper. In iOS 14.4 when you used the action with perspective zoom switched off, it would perfectly proportion the wallpaper to fit (assuming the wallpaper was the same aspect ratio as your device’s screen of course).

In 14.5, this now doesn’t work and the image is set with an artificially added zoom. Note, this artificial zoom makes sense if you have perspective zoom enabled, as there needs to be part of the image “outside” of the screen so the effect can work. But, it’s pointless for a fixed image with perspective zoom turned off.

This added zoom is an annoyance for anyone whose wallpaper is carefully sized to fit in with other aspects of the home screen such as the icon grid, dock or notch. It’s also an irritation as once again Apple have broken a power user feature which worked fine before.

To work around it, I’ve created a Shortcut which will add a border to the wallpaper so that it once again fits. Through experimentation it seems you need to end up with an image which – with a border added – is pretty much 1.134 times the size of the original image. You can use the “Run Shortcut” action in your own workflow, passing in your image and the result of the Shortcut will be modified image which you can then run into the Wallpaper action and once again have a perfectly proportioned wallpaper.

Download “iOS 14.5 Wallpaper Fix” for free.

(Note, I’ve only been able to test this on an iPhone 12 Pro Max, so you may need to change the factor in the shortcut for other screen sizes.)

👾 First Program on the Commander X16


I’m pretty excited about the upcoming Commander X16, and thought I’d give the emulator a shot.

It’s interesting to see the new commands on the X16 added on top of the traditional Commodore 64 BASIC allow for easy manipulation of graphics, in a way which would require using POKE commands on the older machine.

Add built-in mouse support on top of that, and it’s easy to knock up a basic drawing program in just a few lines:

Pretty straight forward: Left-click to draw, right-click to change the colour. See a small demo below:

If you want to get started yourself, the emulator is available for download from the main website, along with plenty of other resources. Be aware, it’s a bit buggy at the moment, which is to be expected for an emulator in development emulating hardware which is also in development!

I can’t wait for the physical product to become available.

📮 Mail Chutes


I came across this strangely captivating article from Atlas Obscura on Mail Chutes in New York, and it reminded me we had one in my company’s last office here in Montreal.

Downtown Montreal always felt to me to have some similar vibes to NYC, especially in some of the Art Deco buildings which were presumably built around the same time. Our old office especially had this old-timey New York feel about it, and I think the existence of a mail chute just added to the vibe.

If you zoom in on the photo, you can even see the original collection times. The chute is sealed shut today, although you were able to still put letters in the mailbox at the bottom by the building entrance.

✏️ Laptop Hack


Here’s a small hack you can use to keep focus during the day as you work. If you get a lot of interruptions, it can be good to write down what you’re currently working on, or maybe you want to track your pipeline of tasks or even just your current objectives.

The issue I find with doing this digitally on the laptop itself – for example in a virtual sticky note – is it’s going to be hidden a lot of the time by other apps. Out of sight can sometimes mean out of mind.

To reduce resistance in this area, it’s better to write your notes where you can see them at a glance 100% of the time. Here’s my approach:

  • Take some index cards
  • Cut one into quarters
  • Use masking tape to attach a quarter segment to each side of your trackpad

You can now just jot down important bullet points on the laptop itself.

You’ll need to use a pen which has an erase feature, so you can rub out older notes which are no longer relevant. My personal tool of choice here is the FriXion pen, but a pencil and eraser would suffice almost as well.

Sometimes the non-digital solutions can work really well!

⛲️ Vauquelin Place - Where Snow is Outlawed


There was a pie-in-the-sky plan put forward a while back to install heated sidewalks in Montreal, specifically on Rue St Catherine. For those not familiar with the idea, they heat the ground just enough that snow melts and ice doesn’t form. Apparently they’re used in Japan (of course).

Since my company moved office last year to the Old Town, my daily walk has been taking me through Vauquelin Place, which sits right next to City Hall. Even on the coldest days, this square is pristine and completely free of snow and ice.

At first I’d thought someone was making a spectacular effort to keep it cleaned up, but this fear seems well beyond the ability of a mere human. After passing through a few times, the idea struck me: What if the ground is heated? I bent down and had a feel with my hand: It was warm! Or, at least, it was definitely above freezing.

So, I have no conclusive proof, but this seems to be the only place in Montreal where snow and ice is forbidden year round. If true, what a wonderful thing!

Update! Confirmed by the current leader of the opposition at City Hall. Don’t think you can get more authoritative that that?

💸 The Great REM Deception


Someone asked me recently what I thought about the Montreal region’s latest super-project, the Réseau express métropolitain (REM). I gave my thoughts unfiltered, and thought I’d share them with the world at large:

  • The sale of the Mont-Royal tunnel:
    • As a public asset into private hands for pittance.
    • The REM refusing to allow existing commuter trains to run through the tunnel to downtown (see my recent blog post for some discussion of the impact).
    • Future transit projects, such as a new link from Montreal to Quebec City, can’t now go ahead without building a new tunnel.
  • The non-competitive clause, preventing any alternative transit between REM stations and Downtown.
  • Possible gagging of city councillors over the project, as well as general hostility to any critique of the project.
  • The fact that this project will increase suburban sprawl, whilst the densest parts of the city remain underserved.
  • The secrecy surrounding the project’s impact, and the fact that most concerns were ignored in order to get the project pushed through.
  • Various Environmental concerns which weren’t taken seriously.
  • Apparently, a law was put in place to prevent the line changing hands for 100 years, no matter how badly it’s run.
  • Not enough parking, so combined with the termination of existing transit to Downtown, there could be an uptick in driving as a result.

I’m still angry about this project, and I don’t understand why the rest of Montreal isn’t. We’re all being treated like fools.

🚇 All Stations Challenge: The Result

2018-12-31 I fell short of the challenge I’d set myself at the beginning of the year. So, how did I do? 48 / 68 gate-lines crossed (71%).

The results

All of Downtown: Check! Eastern arm of the Orange Line (including Laval): Check!

The Western tentacle of the Orange Line got neglected, and the leafy Southern end of the Green Line was left untouched. You can tell which side of the great Montreal divide I live my life in.

Will I try again next year for a full house? Sure, why not. Just need to pick up a fresh map from one of my local Metro stations in 2019, take more photos (Montreal has some fantastic Metro architecture) and have a few stories to tell about the experience.

🤷‍♂️ The Brunch Delusion

2018-05-18 Most of the time when we get up hungry, we go and eat something right away. This is important to do promptly, as it prevents the ‘u’ in ‘hungry’ transmuting into an ‘a’. It’s also why replacing the ‘l’ in lunch with a ‘br’ seems like an act of lunacy.

It’s this bizarre ritual where on a Saturday or Sunday morning we wake up, possibly with a mild hangover. Instead of eating though, we stay hungry as we walk / drive to a restaurant with an epic queue. By the time we’re seated, the place is still so packed that it takes an hour to be served. At this point, if you’ve not started eating the table, you’re doing well.

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?!?

💻 No Drive; No Problem!

2018-04-17 I have a MacBook Air with a truly dead SSD drive. Whilst considering some workarounds, I wondered if it was usable for anything when there was no drive to boot from.

I discovered, if you boot into internet recovery mode (hold cmd + option + R when booting) you can then bring up a terminal. From there you can SSH into another machine and, actually, do work. Kind of.

Recovery mode

There is however a major drawback to this, which is power consumption becomes highly inefficient. Presumably, whatever functionality exists during normal usage to maximise battery life, it all goes down the toilet in recovery mode. So, you’ll want to keep it plugged in, or you know, actually replace the SSD drive (but that’s a whole other story).

🚇 All Stations Challenge

2018-01-12 The start of a new year, and I thought I’d give the so-called “tube station count” challenge a go, but instead of London I’ll be trying it out in Montreal.

The premise is simple; Grab a map, and cross out each station you’ve visited. At the end of the year, look back and see how you’ve done. For a visit to count, you need to actually cross the gate line.

With Montreal’s Metro being a fraction of the size of the London Underground, it should be doable! My first deliberate station visit was Angrignon, at the Western end of the Green Line.

Off to a good start!
Outside, one of those rare Winter days without too much snow.
Platform level. Angrignon is one of the few stations on the Metro with daylight.

Check out Jeff Marshall’s video to learn more about the challenge.

📖 A Poem about Informix

2017-08-29 Sometimes the frustrations of settings up a DBMS (in this case, IBM Informix) can get to you, so it helps to write a poem about your woes.

There once was a server in Montreal,
Which had the wrong Informix install,
ontape would crash,
Since the versions don’t match,
Now the queries won’t run at all.

👨‍💻 Changed iOS 11 Webapp Behaviour


As I mentioned in the previous post, Apple have broken webapps in a new way under iOS 11. To test this I created a simple web page with a single PHP command:


Here’s what came back:

  Safari Webapp
iOS 10.3 Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 10_3_1 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/603.1.30 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/10.0 Mobile/14E8301 Safari/602.1 Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 10_3_1 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/603.1.30 (KHTML, like Gecko) Mobile/14E8301
iOS 11 (Beta) Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 11_0 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/604.1.38 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/11.0 Mobile/15A5361a Safari/604.1 Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 11_0 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/604.1.38 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/11.0 Mobile/15A5361a Safari/604.1

So by this method, there’s now no way of distinguishing between a web page being viewed in Safari or in a webapp container. Maddening.

The challenge now is to figure out if there’s another way of telling the difference.

Update: Seems there is a way of doing this… in Javascript at least. window.navigator.standalone will tell you if you’re in a full screen app.

Update 2: Shaun McDonald figured it out!

On your iOS web app query, I’ve had a moment to figure out what’s happening. Apple are now adhering the standards where you shouldn’t use the user agent to decide the content provided. Rather some form of javascript or CSS media query should be used instead. The Display-Mode CSS media query is the way. The options are browser, standalone, or fullscreen. https://developers.google.com/web/updates/2015/10/display-mode and https://stackoverflow.com/a/17989939 have the info of how to do this.

Thanks Shaun. Maybe I was being a little hard on Apple; They’ve actually fixed web apps, just broken mine!

📱 iOS 11 First Thoughts


Taking the plunge in upgrading my iPhone to the latest iOS 11 public beta since it seems stable enough. Some early observations after a couple of days’ usage on an iPhone 5S:

  • Apple have killed the URL scheme for the settings app (again!). This is less of a problem due to the enhanced control centre, but one of the features I used regularly was to get to the sound page to turn off vibration when I’m wearing my hybrid watch, which I could do quickly via Launch Center Pro. This no longer works. Not a deal breaker, but I wish Apple would be consistent about this kind of thing.
  • No Facebook or Twitter integration. Again, I used integrated shortcuts in Launch Center Pro and Workflow to post quick updates or photos. Now I may be forced to install the official Facebook app, something I’ve managed to avoid for years (and my iPhone’s battery life has thanked me!)
  • The new control centre is awesome and incredibly powerful. For me it’s worth the upgrade alone.
  • New animations feel very smooth and fluid, even on my 5S.
  • The App Store is a massive improvement over what came before.
  • Webapp splash screens seem to be working again for the first time in years! However, webapps seem to identify themselves differently to the server than they did in the past. Still need to investigate the details on this, but it’s broken one of my apps. (I wrote briefly about the sorry state of iOS webapps here)
  • Screen recording, which can be easily activated from control centre, is going to make it really easy to demonstrate defects to app developers and Apple. This should please everyone.
  • App labels have been removed from the homescreen dock, which makes the layout look a little bit cleaner.
  • When you’re playing music, the notification centre shows the music player at the top which makes for quick access.
  • When you take a screenshot, it floats in the corner of the screen for quick editing and sharing.
  • Guided access is available from the control centre. Perfect for when you need to hand your phone to the toddler!
  • The notes app supports tables.

So, this feels like a stability release which on the surface is about adding a bit of spit and shine onto the existing experience.

😴 Sleep Paralysis


There’s been some stuff in my Facebook feed recently about sleep paralysis, so I thought I’d briefly share my own experiences with this odd sleep related condition.

Sleep paralysis is defined by the NHS like so:

… a temporary inability to move or speak that occurs when you’re waking up or falling asleep. [source]

I used to experience this regularly in my 20s, perhaps once a month. But, as I’ve gotten older it’s become a far less frequent occurrence.

I guess the experience is different for everyone, but in my case it happens in the morning, and I’m aware of being conscious and of the sounds around me, but I can’t move or open my eyes. It’s accompanied by an intense feeling like my head is being crushed and I’m falling. My sense of time appears to be skewed and I’m never sure how long it really lasts, but with a real effort of concentration I can eventually force my body to move, at which point I violently jolt myself awake. Sometimes the experience is combined with an almost dream-like quality, and yes, I have experienced that sensation of a presence in the room at least once.

It’s happened to me enough times now that I know it’ll pass, and sometimes I can even feel the process beginning and am able to shake myself awake before I’m fully gripped by the sensation. But my greatest fear each time it happens is that I’ll be stuck in that state and won’t be able to get back.

Sleep is a funny old thing. For some other perspectives on sleep paralysis, read this.

🌞 Eclipse


Montreal had a partial view of the eclipse today. Being unprepared, this was the best my iPhone could do. Note the double lens flares which is where you can actually see the eclipse.

Apparently there’s a total eclipse hitting Montreal in 2022.

Eclipse in lens flares

It looks like I’m in good company with my crap photo, but I think my supermoon eclipse photo turned out better.

🌄 The Four Lookouts of Montreal

If you like a good view, Montreal’s mountain has four lookouts:

  • Chalet du Mont-Royal: This is the really famous lookout, with the view over Montreal’s downtown. It’s the photo you see on all the postcards, but there’s not a photo which does it justice until you’ve seen it for yourself.

    Southern Lookout
  • Belvédère Camillien-Houde: This is the Eastern lookout, with views over Montreal’s East-End (Plateau, Rosemont and beyond). It’s also a traditional make-out spot for locals, who park their car as per every American teen romance or horror movie you’ve ever seen.

    Eastern Lookout
  • Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal: One of Montreal’s most imposing landmarks, this giant oratory sits on the North of the mountain and provides stunning views over the North of the metropolis.

  • Summit Circle Look Out: Technically not in Montreal (it’s in Westmount) this South-Western viewpoint offers lovely views, and unlike the other three spots is reasonably obscure and quiet. I wrote about it here.

Edit: I found a fifth!

🇨🇦 Canada / 🇺🇸 US Border

So, I think this is the Canada / US border. It’s as viewed from a small turboprop flying from Montreal to Moncton, as I believe our flight path took us over Maine between Quebec and New Brunswick.

Canada / US border

Thanks to some helpful friends over on Facebook, here are a couple of links to explain why they shave the land and how internal Canadian flights can cross US airspace:

🚙 Fixing the High Street

Update: It seems voting is still open here. They also have a PDF explaining the three options, so I may have jumped the gun!

Update 2: Seems there was public outcry that the vote wasn’t more widely available to everyone, hence the online voting options. More information on the plan here.

The group behind long-term planning on our high street put three projects to a public vote the other night. The winning project is to make the street more pedestrian friendly by:

  • Expanding the sidewalks
  • Adding in a cycle lane
  • Reducing traffic to just one direction

Click here for the original post

Scenario 2 prevailed. With this option, Rue Masson would become a one-way street (to the east in unofficial logic) and there would be a bike lane. The sidewalks would be 1.5 m wider on each side and a total of three parking spaces would be lost. There would also be a public square on the forecourt of the Church of the Holy Spirit. It remains to be seen now where the line 47 would be diverted to the west. There are solutions that can be done without going through Dandurand and Laurier. This consultation was organized a few weeks ago by the Promenade Masson Business Development Corporation. (translated via Google Translate)

On the face of it, I was ecstatic about this change. The borough touts our high street as its metaphoric heart, but I’ve felt for a long time that it was still too much of an artery for cars. The sidewalks are way too narrow and blocked with street furniture. It’s not a nice street to walk down, especially with a small child in a pushchair or on foot as there’s often not enough space for two people to pass. I love the idea of more space to walk. Also, reducing the traffic from two lanes to one means a 50% reduction in motor vehicles, which in turn will reduce localised air pollution.

But, when I thought more deeply it became obvious this isn’t going to be a plan without consequences.

  • The bus route will need to be relocated going West.

    This seems to have been acknowledged in the plan, as the local bus would have to be relocated either one block North or South of the high street in one direction. This is probably going to annoy the majority of people who end up with further to walk, but it will please people who now get a bus route along their road.

    Due to the diversion, it will most likely make the bus journey going West just that little bit longer in the mornings. That’s a problem with this bus route, which is already slow and unreliable at the best of time in-spite of connecting a major local centre to the Metro.

  • There will be more traffic on the back-streets

    Even though the high street is an important local backbone for shops, cafes, pubs and entertainment, for a lot of people it’s just a short-cut across the borough for their car. With the street closed to Westbound traffic, you can guarantee that the displaced traffic (including some pretty large trucks) will start taking the residential streets. That’s almost certain to annoy residents.

    A knee-jerk reaction to this might be to mimic the Plateau by sealing off side-streets to traffic in a way that prevents them being used as cut-throughs, which is great for cyclists and pedestrians, but leads us to…

  • There may be a risk to businesses

    As the neighbouring Plateau has shown, when you start restricting road traffic, people are less likely to come visit a neighbourhood. This in turn can potentially affect businesses.

    In the case of the Plateau, there’s been a whole cocktail of things which have aversely affected local establishments, but sealing off vast swathes of the neighbourhood hasn’t helped. As much as I’m in the camp of restricting cars as much as possible in favour of cycling, walking and public transport, this kind of thing needs to be carefully researched before going ahead.

In conclusion, fantastic idea on the surface, but it needs a lot of measure and wisdom behind the implementation, and that’s something the city has proven time and time again it’s not good at.

🖥 Find My Mac

One problem with Find My Mac on (older laptops at least), is that if you clear the NVRAM (or the parameter memory), it disables Find My Mac. There’s no warning that this has happened, so I created a background tool to warn you when it’s switched off.

🇯🇵 Japan Tips

After visiting Japan, here were my Twitter-friendly off-the-cuff recommendations. I wrote this circa 2010… things have most likely changed since then, but I’ll let you make up your own mind!

(as an aside, Shimokitazawa was one of my favourite places in Tokyo, but I suspect it’s “developed” since I was there.)

  1. Check out English language publications such as Tokyo Metropolis or Kansai Timeout for events; go with the locals, not the tourists.
  2. The interesting stuff in Tokyo happens out in the outer suburban neighborhoods, off the tourist maps.
  3. Kansai is where it’s at. Think Kyoto for the culture, and Osaka for the night life.
  4. Stay in youth hostels where you’ll meet like minded travellers, and guest houses where you’ll also meet Japanese travellers.
  5. Do your best to learn some Japanese. Not only will it help you get around, but you’ll make new friends along the way.

📃 Dan Patent #2

Beer; it’s never around when you need it. But, what if you could brew it in your lungs?

By sacrificing one of your oxygen sacks, you can fill it with yeast, and other ingredients necessary for creating the perfect pint.

So, when you get the need for the perfect brew, a simple coughing fit into a pint glass will provide you with your heart’s desire.

❓ Genetically Modified Mould

People all seem so concerned with a genetically modified virus escaping into the general populous.

But, what if some crazy scientist were to play around with the humble mould spore?

What if, say, someone were to reduce the time it takes for a spore to colonise and digest an item of food that’s been left exposed to air? Imagine that it only takes about an hour for food to go from being fresh, to being covered in blue and green.

That would mean that you’d have about fifteen minutes to eat your freshly made sandwich.

Putting things in the fridge would help a bit, but you’d be lucky if that leftover spaghetti bolognese from dinner made it through the night.

How would you get food home from the supermarket before it spoiled? For that matter, how would the big supermarket chains get food into their branches before it became a fungal orgy?

Would the economy collapse? I suppose that food would have to be distributed in dehydrated form, as foodstuffs with a low water content (such as honey) never go off.

Look on the bright side though, at least cheese will mature quickly.

Is it wrong that this discussion is actually making me feel hungry?

🐸 Frogs

“It was discovered on a space mission that a frog can throw up. The frog throws up its stomach first, so the stomach is dangling out of it’s mouth. Then the frog uses its forearms to dig out all of the stomach’s contents and then swallows the stomach back down again.”

I’m very disturbed by this news.

←  Back to Scratchbook