BQ&A: The Enigmatic Dr. Drang


Who are you, what do you do, etc.?

My nom de net is Dr. Drang, and I write a blog at that talks about using Macs and iPhones, scripting, and, occasionally, engineering. In real life, I'm a consulting engineer who specializes in the analysis of failures.

What tools do you use to get your job done? Software, hardware, etc.

My work computer is a late-2012 27" iMac; my home computer is a late-2010 13" MacBook Air.

I write everything — programs, work reports, blog posts — in BBEdit. It is by far my most-used app. Prose is written in Markdown and then run through various filters. Reports get turned into LaTeX, where they take advantage of some custom styles I've been using for 10-15 years. This arrangement allows me to write reports pretty quickly, because I don't spend any time thinking about formatting — it's all handled by the styles.

Virtually all of my programming these days is in Python, with the numerical and graphical stuff for work done in NumPy, SciPy, and matplotlib. This is a fairly recent change for me. Up until a couple of years ago, all my calculations were done in Octave and all the graphing was done in Gnuplot.

I use TextExpander to cut down on repetitive input and to run simple scripts for inserting text. My favorite snippets are those that use AppleScript to communicate with Safari and insert URLs into tweets and blog posts.

I've been using FastScripts for ages to run AppleScripts and Python scripts, but I recently bought Keyboard Maestro, so I'll probably transition my stuff to it over the next few months.

My iPhone is primarily a communications and quick reference device. I don't do much writing on it apart from short emails, text messages, and tweets. I've done some serious work in Pythonista, but most of my calculations are still done in PCalc because they're one-offs that don't require programming.

It's not possible to take a photo of my desk at work because it's covered in paper, but I have included a photo of where I do most of my blog work.

What made you first decide to start writing a website?

It seemed like the thing to do in the mid-00s. I thought it would turn out to be more political, and most political blogs back then were written under a pseudonym, so that's why I have one.

It sounds corny, but one of the reasons I wanted to start posting scripts and tips was to pay the internet back for teaching me so much about the use of computers over the preceding 5-10 years. I was a Linux user from 1996-2005, and there was no way I could have survived without good information available for free from so many unselfish people. I wanted to emulate them.

These days, the site’s variety of topics go from basic tech tips, to rather intense physics. Was that always what you had in mind for the site? Or did the site develop like that over time? Or, in other words, what do you think the goal of your site is these days?

The blog was always going to cover whatever I happened to be thinking of, which is why it's called "And now it's all this." My only goal for the site is for it to cover topics that are interesting to me. I understand that most blogs follow the news — whether that be tech news, political news, sports news, or what have you — but I never want to feel compelled to write about something just because it's the topic of the day.

Not that I don’t love the green and all, but are you working on a new site design, by any chance?

No, although I recognize that I should redo the design to make it flow better on a phone.

What are some of your favorite posts on the site?

My favorites are the engineering posts that usually get very few page views. At the top of the list is the post about snap-through buckling, which had equations and nice-looking drawings and graphs. It covered a university-level topic in a way that I thought was accessible without being dumbed down — and it ended with references to "The Wizard of Oz."

The post that's probably been the most help to the most people is this simple one about changing the battery in a Toyota smart key. It gets dozens of hits every day from people searching for how to replace an old battery, something the Toyota manual doesn't cover well.

What's a typical day look like for you?

Typical work days are spent in my office reading, looking at photos and drawings, doing calculations, and talking on the phone to clients. The more fun days are spent in the lab, disassembling and testing equipment.

I usually do my recreational programming and blog post writing in the evenings, sitting in my Poäng chair and drinking tea.

Throughout the day, what apps do you have in your Dock or open? Any favorite websites/Internet habits that you check regularly?

BBEdit, Terminal, and Safari are always open. iTunes is usually open and playing unless I'm writing a report, when I typically do better with silence. The only unusual app in my Dock is Dr. Twoot, a homemade Twitter client built with Todd Ditchendorf's Fluid from an original script by Peter Krantz. I've never really liked any commercial Twitter client on the Mac.

Unlike most "power users," I don't use very many apps. My goal is to focus on a few that I think will be around for a long time and learn to use them well. You can get quite a lot done with just a few good apps and a scripting language or two.

My internet habits are pretty conventional. I subscribe to the usual list of blogs that Mac users subscribe to. I don't bother with multi-author "news" sites like The Verge — they post way too much about way too little and don't have a consistent authorial voice.

What's your iPhone/iPad homescreen look like? Single most interesting app and why?

I'd say Pythonista is the most interesting app on my home screen, closely followed by Drafts. They're interesting for the same reason: they bring flexibility to a platform that isn't especially flexible out of the box.

If you could only install one third party app on your iPhone, what would it be? Mac?

It would kill me to lose Tweetbot and Reeder, but if I had to choose only one it would be PCalc. It's the only calculator I have (I don't use physical calculators anymore because PCalc is better), and an engineer cannot be without a calculator.

Any plans for the future, or projects in the works, that you'd be willing to divulge here?

If only I were organized enough to have plans!

Single favorite movie?

Monty Python and the Holy Grail, hands down. That The Incomparable hasn't done a show on it, nor the TV show, betrays a curious blind spot to a critical piece of geek culture.

If you could have any single super-power, what would it be?

This question presupposes I don't have a superpower, a notion I reject.

This BQ&A is just one of many awesome interviews with awesome people. Be sure to check them all out here.

The Dossier: Time-Wasting, Writing, Pogies, Justin Bieber, And Disaster Relief


The Best iOS Games
As if you needed more great ways to waste your time, The Sweet Setup put together a list of some of the best iOS games out there.

An iOS 7 Flashlight Trick
I totally did not know this one, and it's quite helpful.

Writer Pro
A very clean, very clever looking, new writing tool from the folks behind the original Writer. I've been using Byword for quite some time on my Mac, but I would certainly love to give Writer Pro a try — especially for longer-form stuff. It really looks phenomenal. But the $40 price tag (between iOS and Mac) makes it a little tough to swallow.

The 2013 Pogie Awards
Every year, David Pogue (now of Yahoo, remember) gives out awards to the best ideas in tech. Not products, but ideas in products. This year is as interesting as always.

Justin Bieber Retiring From Music?
Jeez, I sure as hell hope this is real.

How Mac Experts Organize Their Files
I am really liking these new articles on Macworld taking a look at how different people use their Macs.

Casey Neistat Strikes Again
This time he is spending all of the money for an ad campaign for the upcoming movie The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty on disaster relief. I met this guy once (whatever, no big deal) and he really is awesome. Did I have to stick that in there? No. But what's a name-drop every now and again? Either way, I really love his videos.

Popcorn: The Real Wolf Of Wall Street

The Wolf Of Wall Street is coming out soon. And I'm really excited about it. As you would expect, it's generated a bit of buzz, if you will, in the media. I thought I'd just gather a few of the best bits here for all to see. (All of you, at least.)

This movie is going to be a must-see.