Czech typing on a Mac

If you’re a full-time or part-time Czech typist with a Mac you’ve got a the Czech keyboard enabled in your Language & Region Keyboard preferences and you’re skilled at using the alternate keyboard layout (which assigns the special Czech characters to the number keys and also shuffles the punctuation around and might swap your Y and Z keys).

A few years ago macOS introduced popovers for accented characters. Hold down the S key on your keyboard and you get a little bubble with options for alternate letters from various languages. Unfortunately Czech is not included. A few of the special Czech characters are in there because they’re the same as in one of the languages that’s supported, but good luck typing “Ď”. What’s particularly galling, there’s no easy way to modify these popovers. No setting, and not even a third-party utility to edit these that I know of.

It turns out there is a way to do it, but it ain’t easy. There’s a plist file buried in the system files you can edit, but doing so requires rebooting your computer a few times to disable and then re-enable System Integrity Protection.

Warning: Don’t do this. You might mess up your computer. These steps worked for me on a Mac running Sierra, and similar steps may or may not work on other systems. You’re on your own.

  1. The file you’re looking for is /System/Library/Input Methods/ (On other systems it might be /System/Library/Input Methods/ or something else.) If you’re looking for this file you may have to right-click and select “Show package contents” once or twice.
  2. Make a copy of this file somewhere else. Heck, make two: one to edit, one as a backup if things go sideways.
  3. You can open this file in a text editor and make changes. Or you can download my version of it (Keyboard-en.plist) but be extra-careful to make sure the format matches, especially if you’re on an os version other than Sierra.
  4. Now, to replace the file with your edited version, you need to disable System Integrity protection. Reboot while holding down Command-R, select Terminal from the Utilities menu, and type csrutil disable. Then reboot back into your computer.
  5. Drag the edited file into the folder location and select “replace.” The changes should take effect immediately, so you can try holding down the D key in a text field and see if you get a Ď popup.
  6. To re-enable SIP, repeat step 4 but with the command csrutil enable.

More about System Integrity Protection here, and more about disabling it here. For a much easier way to type Czech characters, you can visit the online Czech typing page. Thanks to scilling on DuoLingo for suggesting this.

Václav Havel: a casual rememberence

vaclav havel “Tidy yourself up! We might be Czechs, but we don’t have to let the rest of the world know.” This is apparently one of the lingeringly popular jokes from The Good Soldier Švejk, one of the resounding classics of Czech literature. The fact that I don’t find it any funnier than you will tell you what you need to know about my embarrassingly sparse connection to Czech literature (if the fact that I had to Google it didn’t tip you off). With that serving as a pre-emptive appology, let me tell you as best as I can why Václav Havel was important (without any more Googling, I promise).

At the end of World War II, Roosevelt and Churchill sold my people out to Stalin at Yalta, and the big ‘ol Iron Curtain fell on us. And while it was a light-sneeze version of the Stalinist/Totalitarian sort of thing that they’re, for example, still living up in North Korea to this day, it was still a very different lifestyle from ordinary poverty. There’s an extremely real paranoia that exists, because even if you’ve never gone before the officials on charges that were made against you buy anonymous spies, you know that it happens all the time. Also, this: you can join “The Communist Party” or not. YOUR CHOICE. If you don’t join, the government and others in positions of power won’t trust you. You’ll be denied perks, career advancement, and safety. If you do join, you’ll loose the respect and trust of all your friends. Unless they’re all Party members too. But those are the people with sticks up their ass, right? You either sacrifice your integrity or you sacrifice your prosperity and comfort.

Remember too that Communism is a failed system. And however incompletely it got a hold of then-Czechoslovakia, it was enough that it did a lot of damage. Poverty sucks, but it sucks even more when the accepted way of getting around it is a system of “who you know” and official and unofficial bribes. (Here’s the cool part: those systems existed both outside and inside the party.) The only blessing in all of this is that the totalitarianism was incomplete. They left, to the contrast with say the miserable North Korean dictatorship, enough breathing room for dissidents to function.

And that’s what the people with integrity did. Through the 50s, the 60s (1968 brought a big crackdown from the Russians that put even more of a damper on things), the 70s, and the 80s, they did whatever they could to resist the system. They refused to participate in the dumb rules the Bolsheviks tried to force on the population. They published essays in underground newspapers. They started subversive rock bands (this’d be a great place for a link, but I said I was writing this without Google, remember? … You can look up the Plastic People of the Universe as well as I can). Whenever possible, they staged protests.

Václav Havel was a pivotal figure in this movement, in these protests. But he was also a symbol of the fact that, unlike so many other protests, this one was led by artists. I started with a joke from Švejk, which I haven’t read. I’ve also not read a lot of Havel. It’d be silly of me to blame that on anything but my enduring laziness — I can read Czech well enough to be able to get through it if I really wanted to, and in any case there are English translations around — but another thing is that his writing is in some sense a version of that you-had-to-be-there joke. It’s absurdism I suppose in the vein of Kafka and Beckett, with lots and lots of inspiration from the insanity, the paranoia, and the maddening dumbness of living under totalitarianism, and infused with that ultra-dry, uniquely Czech humor.

So anyway, in 1989 we had the Velvet Revolution, named in part because for once nobody died and in part for the Velvet Underground, of whom Havel and others in the movement were fans (factoid: Lou Reed interviewed Havel during his presidency). And through some unknown combination of pure charisma, actual leadership, and no doubt the usual back-channel maneuvers, Havel became president of Czechoslovakia (which promptly split into the Czech and Slovak republics, so please stop calling it that).

He became shades of something like a Desmond Tutu or the Dali Lama there for awhile — a world figure who could make things happen just with his calm presence. And he led the Czechs through an extremely tumultuous transition, avoiding barbaric reprisals against members of the previous regime, backsliding into comfortable habits, and economic collapse. The latter is particularly remarkable when compared to some of the surrounding countries around that time (and less remarkable when you see how well the Czech Republic was able to brand itself as an inexpensive and effulgent tourist destination (Also worth pointing out here is the distinction in European governments between the President and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is the more powerful of the two positions. The President is, to some degree, an honorary position, and leads mostly by persuasion. It’s about halfway between the US President and the Queen of England.))

The point is that he was equal parts a symbol, a great writer, and a great leader. He surely deserved — though never received — the Nobel Peace Prize. And the world is diminished by his absence. The poet and playwright turned dissident turned world leader. Not something you’ll see again to soon, I fear.

Cross-posted at THL, home of things better than you’ll generally find here


london underground

Here’s a zippy photo of the London Underground for all you sassy types. I’m traveling around Europe for a few weeks. Posting shall to be nonexistent until Friday, and intermittent afterwards. (The itinerary goes thiswise: Thursday was in London, then to Prague, tomorrow morning to Paris by car, Back on Wednesday/Thursday with some time in Germany (Oktoberfest!), then another week and change in Prague.) I’ll try to post photos as often as possible here