The simple life

A common weakness in movies is being self-referential, and movies that revolve around the process of movie-making can be desperately dull to the outsider. Whether Resnais’ tormented French actress in Hiroshima Mon Amour, or Altman’s Hollywood-hooked The Player, if you don’t know your Arri from your Eyemo, those movies ring hollow.

Although there are novels about novellists, movie makers seem peculiarly obsessed with the idea that movie making should feature in many movies. I suspect that most real-world audiences are not so enthused.

It is also easy to lose touch with the real world when writing about computers, even Macs.

Ten years ago several commentators picked up the news that researchers were developing configurable processors from IBM’s PowerPC design, and spawned the idea that such processors could change themselves from being conventional PowerPC units running Mac OS X, to Intel-compatible processors running Microsoft Windows Vista.

Configurable processors are exciting, but hardly novel, and have far more mundane but practical applications in robotics and control systems, for example. We used to put boards containing the guts of a PC into our 68K Macs in order to run Windows in Mac OS System 7, and with the advent of vastly faster PowerPCs became quite happy to perform PC emulation in software, using Virtual PC. Now that Macs have switched from non-configurable PowerPCs to non-configurable Intel CPUs, we can choose between Boot Camp, which runs the PC inside a Mac as a regular PC, or various virtualisation products like Parallels and VMware.

Here, as when I wrote The Works for MacUser, I try to strike a balance between esoteric technical items, and pragmatic matters of elegant simplicity.

Lest you feel the former is in the ascendant, allow me to reveal how you can reduce your state-of-the-art, multi-tasking, multi-user, multimedia Mac and printer to a stationery supply centre. The next time you or your offspring need some graph paper, or any other specialist type of paper from music manuscript to hex map sheets, make it yourself. Instead of trudging the aisles in your local Staples, in search of millimetre-based grey, semi-log, or even polar paper, print it on demand.

Unless you want to waste hours mousing around Adobe Illustrator, cheat by downloading ready-made PDF files from a site like Incompetech If that does not meet your needs, you can find statistical probability papers at, more variations, logarithmic and polar at Print Free Graph Paper, and music manuscript here. These papers are fully backward- and forward-compatible, and work under Mac OS 8, 9, X, Jaguar, Mountain Lion, Yosemite, and El Capitan. Whether you want one sheet or a ream, single or double sided, they cater for all needs. The PDF files will never wear out or expire, and they are completely royalty free too.

Another example of elegant simplicity is the minimalist Markdown markup language, devised eleven years ago by John Gruber, and now supported by a dozen or more writing tools which claim to help you focus on what you are writing, instead of distracting you with tons of tools.

Although Markdown should be so simple that you can pick in up in a couple of minutes, and most apps supporting it prompt you with helpful suggestions, you may still need a bit of a steer in the right direction. If you can spare £2.50 (around $3.80 or €3.50) and twenty minutes, you should find Matt Gemmell’s Writing in Markdown a boon.

He also admits to being wonderfully self-referential, in writing the whole book using Markdown. I hope for the sake of his sanity that his next title is not going to be about PDF or Postscript!

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 21 issue 15, 2005.