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The letter of recommendation, usually for a student applying to grad school or for a new PhD applying for her first real teaching job, is a fact of academic life and a venerable tradition. In the past two weeks I have written three, though two were for the same student and were essentially variations on a theme for two similar programs. Over the years I have written countless recommendations. I hope they helped. I am pretty sure that none of them hurt.

Indiana Shea and the Ruta Maya

I am beginning this wonk in longhand, sitting by the pool at the Palma Real condominiums south of Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, Mexico. A stiff ocean breeze is making those royal palms sway, but it is not unpleasant. Dear me no, it is not unpleasant at all. Just past the pool and the palapas,* the Caribbean laps sand which, more than anything, resembles powdered sugar. The condo’s statue of Neptune, in fetching premature verdigris, presides over the scene, hailing passing ships.


“Inside every old person is a young person wondering what the hell happened.”

This 3rd of March Mrs. Shea’s little boy will notch his seventieth year on God’s green Earth. I hesitated to write a wonk about it. Having already written at least three wonks on aging, I didn’t want to risk becoming a garrulous old bore on the subject. But I was working on a wonk that wasn’t working out, and reaching the Biblical allotment is just too tempting a subject. So I’m going to risk it. Lucky you.

Olio (Oleo?)

Olio or oleo? The two are staples in crossword puzzles, and I can’t keep them straight. One is a butter substitute, the other a melange, a potpourri, a miscellany. This wonk of course will be the latter, but which word applies, you ask? Hey, look it up. I can’t be doing everything for you. But Happy New Year. We have survived another one. And I promise that if this is a retrospective, it will be only accidentally so.


Dear Me

There is a book just out entitled Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self. The instigator, Joseph Galliano, invited many celebrities to do just that, to write such a letter. (To his credit, the profits will go not to Galliano but to a charity.) This letter business is not a new idea, but as a writing prompt it is certainly a cut above “My Pet Peeve.” It invites somber reflection, wiseacre humor, and much in between.

Reposition Windows for Multiple Monitors with AppleScript

If you frequently switch between different displays, you know organizing your windows when switching displays can be a real pain. I use my MacBook Pro frequently by itself, and I also have a 20" external display on my desk at home. Additionally, I have a weird affliction of window placement OCD. Admiring Stay, but not prepared to spend $15, I wrote the following AppleScript that will resize and organize my windows when I switch my display configuration.


I’m in love.

I don’t mean with the Longsuffering Diana, although that is certainly true and forever will be. And our kids and grandkids are so rooted in my heart as never to be extirpated. But I find myself in love with 23 pounds of canine named Roadie. Never thought we’d have a dog again, and I have a good story for you.

Calvin Untroped

Readers of this space know that I teach classical tropes every fall (see “Tropes”). The basic assignment that I give my trope babies is a “lemon squeeze” of a passage—identify all the tropes that you can—and I usually pick out something that is reliably rich with tropes: poetic prose perhaps, or oratorical prose (Lincoln, Kennedy, King, etc.).

Steve Wozniak Interview

Editor's Note: This "interview" was actually a series of questions that I emailed to Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, on December 31, 1999. While the rest of the world was ringing in the New Year or worrying about Y2K, Woz was typing up his responses. He responded about two hours after I emailed him!

Crazy Grammar

Because we use words, we must use grammar to string them together. “Grammar” has a telling history, being related to “glamour” and “grimoire.” Glamour has come down some in the world, referring now mostly to Tinsel Town denizens, jet-setters, all that social fluff. But originally it referred to magic, to witchery. Similarly, a grimoire was a sorcerer’s handbook, a book of spells. Hocus Pocus, Dominocus (a parody of church Latin) and all that.

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