Symbolic Links

Symbolic links are quite possibly my favorite little thing about Unix based operating systems. I’ve clicked on Macworld’s tutorial page on symbolic links probably 200 times now, because I can never remember its very simple syntax1.

A symbolic link is essentially a shortcut to a directory, much like shortcuts on a Windows desktop to applications. The difference is that for most intents and purposes2, a symbolic link is indistinguishable from actually placing the directory itself in the location of the symbolic link.

Why is this useful? For my current set-up, I have two hard drives: one 80 Gigabyte SSD (named Lappy) and one 500 Gigabyte hard drive (named Lappy Slow). 80 Gigabytes isn’t enough to hold all of my documents, so my ~/Documents folder is actually a symbolic link to /Volumes/Lappy Slow/Documents, which allows for seamless access of the other drive from my main home directory on my SSD.

Symbolic links are also incredibly useful for Dropbox, which I love and use constantly. One of the biggest complaints about Dropbox is that it only backs up what is in your Dropbox directory. But it honors symbolic links! So inside my ~/Dropbox directory I have symbolic links to the school documents folder that I want to backup as well as the folder holding this website. All of this can be done with a simple one line command.

ln -s ~/Documents/School ~/Dropbox/School

Now the School folder stored in my Documents is also going to be automatically backed up by Dropbox. This is great for folders that you’re too lazy or are unable to move but would still like to be in Dropbox.

  1. I always reverse the order of the two parameters, for some reason I find the way it works to be completely counterintuitive.
  2. iTunes, for example, has very inconsistent behavior of honoring symbolic links.

The Future of Best Buy

Larry Downes has written a great takedown of Best Buy over on Forbes. While the analysis of the company’s stock and future is interesting, the more damning part of his article is simply the story of him and a friend trying to purchase a Blu-Ray at Best Buy. His skewering of Best Buy’s PR fake apology for failing to fulfill orders in time for Christmas (on page 3) is also priceless.

I hadn’t walked into a Best Buy in about 2 years prior to two trips I had to make the week before Christmas. I had used rewards points from my credit card to buy gifts, and had elected to use in store pickup. At 5:00 PM on two separate business days, a week before Christmas, I walked into a store where half of the fluorescent overhead lights were turned off, and waited in line for about 30 minutes each time to pick up my order. In order to redeem my items, I had to read an employee an 18 digit number (3 times per item, as the various employees appeared to be pretty incompetent) and then wait for 15 minutes while they waded through a sea of boxes to find my item. By contrast, in May of last year I walked into an Apple Store, told the first employee I saw that I wanted a 16 Gb Wi-Fi iPad, and was out of the store in approximately 3 minutes. The worst part of my interaction was having to listen to 3 minutes of Jack Johnson. I agree with Larry Downes’s sentiment: Best Buy can’t go out of business quickly enough.

The Name of the Next iPhone

Shawn Blanc made some predictions for 2012, and while most are believable or at least interesting, I had to disagree with his prediction about the name of the new iPhone:

The next iPhone will be the sixth iPhone. But I don’t expect that the next iPhone will be called “iPhone 6″. No doubt they’ll return to just iPhone one year. Maybe this year?

The iPod line has almost always been called simply iPod, without numbers. Once several different types of iPods came onto the market, they were referred to as iPod Classic, iPod Touch, etc. While they did have hardware revision numbers, they were never marketed as such. You would simply say, “I bought the new iPod” and most people weren’t even aware what the hardware number of their new device was. Likewise, the iMac and MacBook lines, and almost all other product lines from Apple, eschew numbering.

I think this is where Shawn Blanc is coming from with predicting the end of iPhone numbering. But the iPhone is the first product1 where Apple is still selling previous versions. The iPhone 3GS, 4, and 4S are all currently for sale. These numbers and differing names are required to differentiate the products to customers, and they have an obvious progression for which is better. While the naming scheme may not seem elegant, I don’t see Apple going the Android route with names like iPhone Sensation or iPhone Captivate. I predict the iPhone naming will remain consistent, so next up: iPhone 5.

  1. To the best of my knowledge. Feel free to e-mail me if I’m wrong.

Resolution: Learn to Code in 2012

I’m not a big fan of resolutions (One of Merlin Mann’s greatest posts makes a good argument as to why), but the folks at Codecademy have created a free program dedicated to teaching non-programmers how to code via weekly lessons. I don’t know how great these lessons will be, but if you’ve always wanted to get started learning to code, I imagine this would be a great place to start. (via)

I’d also check out Marco Arment’s thoughts on learning to code, as well as Gina Trapani’s1.

  1. I know I just posted about my dislike for Lifehacker, but this post was back when Gina was still there and the site was tolerable (or at least her posts were).