About a month ago, as part of my plan to set up a new, work-focused home office here at Schussman North, I got myself a new computer, a lovely iMac. That’s right, I Switched—well, partly: I still use our trusty old Satellite laptop when I travel or go into town to the coffeeshop for an afternoon. But for the most part, I’m using the Mac these days, and I’m loving it.
With the introduction of the new model iMacs, the prior version of the machine was discounted quite a bit, especially at academic stores, so I was able to get the 20-inch model and spring for a fat memory upgrade. So far the machine really hums along: It’s quiet, mostly spendidly fast (emacs, strangely enough, seems to lag a bit when compared to the laptop), and the display is gorgeous, wide enough for multiple windows or displaying lots of data, with crisp text. One month later, a few more thoughts.
Things I’m enjoying
- Bibdesk: Bibdesk is an application for working with BibTeX files. It has powerful sorting and editing features and integrates well with writing documents in Emacs: Just copy and paste a citation to generate a \cite statement—for more \cite options, BibDesk includes a drawer full of alternative cite commands that can be dragged to documents to build citations. With BibDesk, I’m able to combine my half-dozen or more different BibTeX files into a single master file that’s easily sorted by author, keywords, or any other query. BibDesk also handles local copies of papers nicely: Drag any PDF (or other file format) to a BibDesk entry and it will be automatically associated with that entry, copied to a central repository, and renamed according to your favorite naming convention for easy later identification. It’s really slick. And because the underlying BibTeX file is preserved, the database can always be opened and manipulated with Emacs or your favorite text editor. BibDesk is extensible through scripts that let you add, remove, or edit fields in any number of entries at a time. Scripts also facilitate downloading entries from various citation databases, and BibDesk has a great set of import tools for dealing with plain text or other bibliographic database formats.
- Unixy and open source power: All my open source applications have been ported, so the cost of switching was minimal. I’ll probably end up buying a copy of the educational version of Office, but substitutions like NeoOffice/J offer as many alternatives to commercial software as are found on Windows and Linux (note that they’re not always perfect substitutions, but they’ll usually do the trick). And I’ve got a fully-powered up shell underneath it all, so even version control was a seamless switch.
- Speed: The iMac sure is snappy most of the time—thanks, I’m sure, in part to the 2 GB of RAM I put in. But even before that upgrade, it was nice and speedy.
- Quicksilver: What everybody else has said: Wow, it’s neat. Still, I’m sure that I’m underutilizing it, as habituated as I am to reaching for the mouse when I need to open or find something. (Same goes for spotlight.)
Things I’m still puzzling away with
- Digital Camera: OS X won’t recognize my old Pentax EI-200 digital camera. The camera shows up in the USB device list, but I can’t mount it or get iPhoto to find it. Come on Apple, how hard is it to detect a USB mass storage device and just load it up? I shouldn’t need a new camera to work with this thing. So for the time being, photos still load up on the laptop with Picasa.
- The keyboard is just different enough that I still stumble over hotkeys, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why end and home don’t do anything. Am I just missing something? The different meanings of control, alt, and command aren’t always apparent.
- Every once in a while, the machine doesn’t cleanly shut down. I get a message that it must be restarted, either via the restart key (which, um, I don’t have, as far as I know) or by holding down the power button. Something to do with the Tiger upgrade? I’ve never had problems with stability while using the machine—it’s rock solid in that regard—but I do wonder about this quirk.