Went and got an iPhone

For a while there back in 2010 I kept waiting on the promises (by which I mean rumors) that the iPhone would soon-anyday-now-for-real be coming to Verizon. (whose signal is quite a bit better than the alternatives in my mountain town, and I get a company discount, too) But the time came I was tired of waiting, so I eventually pulled the trigger and went for a Droid X. And I liked it, and it worked very well for a while, and I spent quit a bit of time tuning applications and integrating it into my Mac desktop and workflow.

But along the way it started to get unstable. It wasn’t uncommon for it to hard-freeze while in the car dock, or if I locked it while using the camera app. It seemed to slow down, too, taking increasing (and increasingly frustrating) long times to do things that a phone should just do, like make calls.

Also, I dropped it three months ago and the rightmost fifth of the screen went dark. Do you know how much stuff, important stuff, is over there? The clock, scroll bars, send and submit buttons in a whole lot of apps, for example. Oh, the comedy of my rotating the phone to reveal a button, or blindly tapping in hopes of finding “send.”

So it was a good run, little, er big honkin’ Droid, but when my clock came up and I could upgrade, I was at the VZW store when it opened (this part was actually by accident, but I was the second guy in the door that morning) and came home with a black 32gb 4S.

Oh. My. There’s just. Why didn’t anybody tell me? It’s so good, and all the slavering over specifications at the gadget blogs about multi-core and 4.6-inch droid screens is just utter nonsense all of a sudden, because Apple just nails this thing.

I turn on the camera app, and there’s the camera. Not only does the app simply start up with a barely perceptible delay, but the quality absolutely smokes that of the droid. The camera lag matters more as my toddler gets faster; waiting for the camera to boot was okay when he was immobile, but the guy is on the move now, people, and shutter lag and slow startup were getting in my way.

The screen is gorgeous. Crisp, clear, colorful. Apps that I got used to working with on the droid — like 1password, tweetdeck, instapaper — are instead shockingly usable.

Tapping a phone number makes a call. I don’t wait, wondering if the tap registered. FaceTime is a revelation, one which my toddler is just agog over.

I mentioned my switch on the twittermatic, and a contact of mine expressed surprise to see me make the move, indicating that he expects many more to move in the opposite direction. Now that I’ve switched, I cannot imagine it. To be fair, android is — probably — forcing Apple to be competitive and pay attention to the apps and features landscape, but the past two years I’ve spent with my own droid is all I need to be very confident that nobody has the full packages together nearly as well. If there’s movement toward android right now, I expect it’s from first-time smartphone shoppers corralled by in-store salespeople. (I think smarter observers than I have made this point.) And as we come up on two years since the Verizon iPhone, I predict a surge of movement from VZW droids to iPhone.

Me, I’m happy.

Alfred is my favorite new launcher

Back in the day, Quicksilver was the hot app for OS X. I hadnít used it for years, now; at some point it seemed to become unstable, and its indexing sucked up a fair amount of CPU. So until recently Iíve been launcher-less on my Macs. Oh I checked out the occasional alternative like Launchbar, but never took to it.

But now Iím using Alfred and seeing the launcher light once again.

Alfred is nicely capable on its own: Invoke it, type an application or file name, and Alfred displays the matches, each with a hotkey to activate. But with its Powerpack, it gets just fantastic, with dedicated shortcut keys to active popup finder navigation, a mini iTunes player and a Clipboard history. The keyboard shortcuts continue ó each popup gives hotkeys to the options it presents.

These tools have replaced my normal modes of navigating on the MacBook. Itís so easy to invoke any of the powerpack features to find and email a file, fire up a playlist, or simply launch/switch applications. What I used to do with quicksilver, Iím now doing with Alfred, and loving it.

[The launcher app itself is free and available on the Mac App Store; the powerpack, which turns up the capability to 11, costs about $20. Worth it.]

November updates and &c.

First things first, our little boy is a bundle of joy. At fifteen weeks, he’s grinning up a storm, making lots of not-quite-talking sounds, and getting closer to rolling over every day. And now we have his very first refrigerator art:

Art on the fridge

What else to mention, note and otherwise jot?

  • Gruber sneers at the suggestion that Android phones will soon find a place on the flickr popular cameras list, and he’s right. Data point: Some photos I upload from my Droid X are identified by the application that took the photo, not by the device itself; for example, the photo linked above says it was taken with “a Vignette for Android.” I bet that iOS devices/apps don’t do that, do they? It’s hard to demonstrate any kind of presence with that sort of fractured reporting.
  • That said, I’m finding that my Droid X is a fully capable device, enabling easy photography and video, and casual easy-to-maintain connections with friends and family. This internet over-the-air thing could go places, folks. However, Motorola, I’m looking at you: The glitch where you incorrectly remove spaces after alpha characters when I use puncutation like $ or " has got to get fixed. It makes sense for commas, periods, colons and semicolons, but not most other marks.
  • Also, Steambirds is great on Android and iOS, too.
  • I got myself one of those jobbers. I don’t really know what to do with it.
  • Relatedly, What do do with an old blog? That’s what I’ve been wondering, lately. This little domain has served as a web log now for nine years, and though I’ve tinkered with the flash and easy posting of tumblr and posterous (and twitter and github and so forth) I’ve never quite decided if and how to shift gears to one of them, you know, officially. Something to consider as this little corner of the twinglywebs has another birthday.
  • We ditched DirecTV back in July to go all-online for our TV needs and have been pretty happy with the switch. We miss the easy-on of live TV sometimes (news, some sports) but Netflix and Amazon on Demand have treated us pretty well. The video quality of Netflix isn’t as good on the Wii as on the Blu-Ray player, but the little white box makes up for it by beating the pants off the Sony when it comes to interface. Catch up, Sony; little image tiles and no discoverability are losers, man.
  • An evening of tinkering with AirPlay in iOS 4.2 (via the iPad and my now five-year old and perfectly working Airport Express hooked up to the Model One) really does make me want AppleTV and -enabled speakers all over the place. It’s cool, and it so lightens the comparable overhead of MacBook + Remote app. P.S., Tivoli, I would pay real money for an Airplay-enabled model.
  • The TSA urges us all not to make things inconvenient this holiday season? “TSA: You can be sure the SA doesn’t stand for self-aware.”

Happy Thanksgiving from all of me to both of you.


Brayden asked below about my experience so far with the iPad. Can it replace a PC for most uses? Put most simply, yup. I’m using mine for about 90 percent of the everyday time that I would normally spend on the MacBook Pro. In fact, it’s probably easier to write up the things that I’m not routinely doing on the iPad, these days:

  1. Lightroom: I do have a nice workflow for publishing photos to the iPad from Lightroom, but for now at least, that application itself still lives on the MBP. And Lightroom 3, by the way, has a host of improvements that I recommend.

And that’s about it. Now that I’ve had some time to get used to the keyboard, i can write pretty quickly with the iPad; autocorrect doesn’t always seem to catch things I think it should (like the lowercase “I” in the prior sentence), so i think about the Bluetooth keyboard once in a while, but I haven’t really needed more than the software keyboard. If i want to write a lot, of course, I can hop onto the laptop and TextMate away. (I drafted this article using on iPad.)

The iPad so portable and easy that I do a lot of sitting on the patio with it. It undersells it significantly to call it a reading device, but it’s so very good for propping in my lap with a coffee or a beer and diving into instapaper or the Kindle app. It’s just a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Shortly after the iPad launch, some reviewer noted how it just gets out of the way and just becomes the application you’re using or the web site you’re visiting. That’s really a great way to put it, and it’s largely true. With a well done app, the iPad mostly disappears.

Here’s a short list of the good apps I’m spending time with (in addition to Safari and Mail):

  1. Instapaper Pro
  2. Kindle
  3. 1password Pro
  4. Twitterific
  5. Tab Toolkit
  6. Netflix
  7. Reeder

I’m still looking for a case for the thing (the DODO Case is mighty tempting), just for a bit more protection, though I’m not eager to cover it up, either. [Other recommendations, anybody?] And I don’t love the crop of text editors I’ve tried, so far, hence using for this post; the upcoming PlainText app sure looks good, though. But I have no true complaints. This is a super little device and I’m really having a great time with it. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s just a big iPod Touch.

Lightroom 3 to iPad gallery workflow

(Or, an efficient way to use Lightroom to manage photos on your iPad)

I got myself an iPad a few weeks ago. Short review: It’s a big iPhone only in the sense that an iPhone is just a phone; that is, it’s hawt and I love it. (More ZOMG iPad articles to follow, I’m sure.)

The iPad really shows off photos, so I’ve been thinking about the best way to manage the photos that I want to put on it. With the non-beta release of Lightroom 3 this week, I think I’ve found a start at a workflow in the new publishing service that it offers.

First a note about syncing photos to the iPad. Like the iPod/iPhone, you have to select a single parent directory, and optionally subdirectories, of photos that you want to sync. The iPad stores photos in a series of albums simply named after the subdirectory where they live on your hard drive. In my case, I keep the photos that I publish out of Lightroom in one of a number of subfolders of a ~/Pictures/Exported Photos directory, but I don’t necessary want to sync all of them to the iPad. And, for the iPad, I wanted a little more control over the album naming for purposes of navigation — so I didn’t want to keep the directory names I’ve previously used for simple file management.

So: I have an “iPad” directory in my exports folder, and that’s what I sync to the iPad — along with all its subdirectories. I’ve copied a handful of existing albums into that directory, which isn’t a great solution but it does work for now. Apple has apparently decided that symbolic links cannot be synced [that would be a great capability, wouldn’t it?], so I can’t simply create links to the file locations of the existing, non-Lightroom albums that I want to sync.

iPad sync directory; Lightroom 3 publish service directories are subfolders of this

But the Lightroom albums are another story. Right now, I’ve simply created a couple of Hard Drive publish services, each of which publishes to a subdirectory of that “iPad” folder I described above. For example, the current flickr one simply sets up a set of export parameters for photos that will be published to a subdir.

Lightroom 3 Hard Drive publish service setup

But the slick part comes by making a smart collection that will publish everything I post to flickr in 2010. Simply build the smart collection within the publish service:

Creating a published smart folder in Lightroom 3

And then set it to include all photos that match some key criteria: Since I use Jeffery Friedl’s flickr plugin, I can call directly on the metadata it creates at export:

Published Smart folder settings to include a subset of Flickr-published photos

I now have a smart collection within a publish service, so the photos that I export that match that criteria will automatically be added. I’ll have to occasionally republish to the service itself; and each time I do so, the iPad will gather up those photos the next time I sync.

You can use the same methodology to set up hard drive publish services for any album you like; each service will appear on the iPad as an album, and if you create a smart collection (or a series of them) as part of the service, then they’ll be updated automatically as you perform you regular photo workflow.

One final note on why I think the publish service is an ideal tool for this workflow, rather than a solution such as simply exporting to a folder: The publish service will apply future changes to the service settings to all photos under its control. So, were I to decide to apply a watermark, a border (via, for example, LR/Mogrify 2), or adjust photo quality in order to save space on the iPad, those changes made to the publish service would result in the option to re-process the current photos:

Publish service allows for the updating of all published photos when changes are made to the service

In a sense, then, the photos produced via the publish service are truly synced — future changes will be managed and will trigger re-processing, if I choose. I think that’s pretty Good Stuff.

Organizing the digital mega-library

A few weeks back I wrote a bit about our new supra-digital entertainment nexus station, also known as The Blu-Raya Playa. After some more time basking in its HDMI greatness, I have a few more reflections that seem, in natural blog law, to require public consideration.

First, a disclaimer: The audio portion of our “home theater,” such as it is, consists of an eight year-old Sherwood receiver that I still maintain is an extraordinarily good buy for 2002, what with its DTS and coax and optical audio inputs and 5.1 downmixing and full LRF support. It’s connected to the bookshelf speakers that I bought in 1994 to take to college, so when I say that the audio from the Serenity blu-ray is totally sweet, you should take my word for it, because I’m not one of those nutjobs who pays $800 for neutrally-balanced balsawood volume knobs.

Right, with that out of the way, the Sony N460 remains a very satisfying little piece of equipment, but I do have a few thoughts about the whole “online digital library” thing.

First, a better remote would be nice. This one’s a little lightweight in heft. Also, for a device that can stream internet music services, a RF remote would be slick — no line-of-sight requirement to make selections. In the dare-to-dream category would be a smart remote with a display to control services like or pandora from the kitchen. Oooh, iPhone app. Ooooh, iPad app, yes.

Second, every video service is walled off from the rest. Online video is organized by service, not content or category or keyword. I want to aggregate it all up into folders or buckets of some kind. I’d settle for getting this for Netflix only (though being able to roll-up rentals or purchases from Amazon on Demand, too, would be way cool). The current display is just a tile of little tiny cover displays — scrolling through brings up a larger display of title. How excellent it would be to be able to organize all those little pictures of DVD covers, into TV and sci-fi and “serious melodrama” and “re-runs of The Shield.”

Here’s why categorization matters so much: I find I’m really making a library out of the Netflix instant queue, dropping into it movies I’ve been before, movies I’ve heard about, movies I might watch someday, and even documentaries. Previously, the Netflix Instant queue was a list of things tagged, essentially, “I want to watch this.” But having all that material in a device permanently connected to the TV changes that dramatically. It’s not a queue so much as a “I love this or I think it’s cool or I remember watching it in college or I might watch this one day” list. And therefore it’s not a list; it’s a library, and that library needs organizing. And all that stuff? It needs organizing.

The digital mega-library needs organizing, one way or another. Netflix could send category information to these devices, for example, or could allow users to attach keywords; devices could do anything with this information: display tag clouds or let users navigate the categories of video they’ve dropped into the queue, or build sparklines of keyword frequencies or … well, you get it. I think Netflix must ultimately be headed for this kind of system, but its usability will depend on device-level implementation.

[ update: Boxee may present a partial solution here, as the new version claims to be able to better organize material across services. Not having tried it out for quite a while, I downloaded the current release and gave it a go. I do have to say that it’s really slick, and must faster than the prior version I had used for a while. And there is some hint of cross-service integration: Searching for Chuck for example reveals streams from and from Hulu; but searching for Doctor Who, which is represented by half a dozen entries in my instant Netflix queue, turns up nothing, so the integration is at best still only partial. But Boxee does have the most complete overall set of services, so the upcoming Boxee box is most definitely worth watching as an alternative to dedicating a PC to the TV. ]

And the day I can get to all the stuff I’ve queued, rented, and/or bought — via keyword, or actor, or ranking, or genre — without having to back out three menus and find another service? That will be Unification Day, and it will rock. Apple TV, I’m looking at you, though if Sony could do this with some sweet firmware updates to the box we already own, well I’d seriously consider a Vaio. Cross my heart.

Replacing Edit in TextMate with QuickCursor

After upgrading to Snow Leopard on my MacBook, I found that the Edit in TextMate hook wasn’t working. There were a few threads about re-enabling it, but nothing definitive, and the support page suggests either running any target applications (those in which you want to use Edit in TextMate) in 32-bit mode, or perhaps trying some uninstall-reinstall voodoo. Since neither of these were ideal, I thought I’d try the “last-resort” suggestion, QuickCursor.

After a few minutes of use, QuickCursor seems to me to be a great improvement over Edit in TextMate — far from an “if everything fails” option, I prefer it for most of my uses.

  1. Installation is easy. Download, copy to Applications folder, and run it.
  2. Configure: I set it to load on bootup, and it automatically found TextMate as one of my editor options. I assigned TextMate the same keyboard shortcut that Edit in TextMate once occupied (cmd-ctrl-E).
  3. Use! From a Safari field, hit the shortcut and up pops a TextMate window; edit away, save, and your text appears in the Safari field. So far, just like Edit in TextMate, with the added bonus of being uncomplicated and functional in Snow Leopard. But here’s where it improves on the original: Edit in TextMate required the “target” window to be in focus in the target application; that is, when using Safari with multiple tabs open, the tab with the target “edit in” field had to be the active tab. This meant that if you opened an “edit in” TextMate window, then flipped through a few tabs to find something, you would have to relocate the target tab before being able to save from the TextMate window. QuickCursor doesn’t have this limitation: You can open multiple editing windows from multiple tabs, edit any/all of them, and save your edits without worrying about which application or tab is in the foreground. Bingo!

There are a couple of important caveats to QuickCursor that may make it not an ideal solution for some users (my bolds):

QuickCursor depends on two technolgies. For reading/writing data from the original application is uses the accessibility api. The nice thing about that API is that it’s not a hack, it’s a supported API. But unfortunatly not all views support the accessibility api (at least not read/write of the text content). And in particular webkit views don’t support it. And that means that tools that use webkit as their editor (such as won’t work with QuickCursor.

That means that Firefox doesn’t work with QuickCursor, either, since it doesn’t use the accessibility API. Since I’m a Safari user, and never much used Edit in TextMate for Mail, QuickCursor is pretty spot-on ideal for me.

Good Apps: 1Password

1Password is a password manager for OSX that performs smart form completion in your web browser. In the not-quite-a-year since I bought it, I’ve used it, in one way or another, just about every day. To make a long story short, it’s made simple, easy work of everything I do that involves a web password, login, or account information. And in that year, the software has only become more capable, adding increasingly simple syncing and great support for iPod/iPhone.

In a nutshell, here’s what 1Password does: It pays attention to the web forms you fill out — the login at the power company, for example — and, if you give the word, saves the information you enter into that form to a password-protected keychain (it knows when you’re filling out a new form, and prompts you for the okay to save it). Later, when you return to that form, logging in is as simple as a quick tap of a keyboard command: hit cmd-\ and 1Password fills in and submits the form, and boom there you are looking at your power bill, without any looking up your account number or anything.

I’m not using the power bill example for nothing. Paying bills is where, for me, the huge payoff of this app is: By removing all the overhead of looking up logins (finding the last bill for the account number or something), 1Password has massively reduced the overhead of managing my bills. See, it doesn’t just save your logins, it keeps a list that helps you to manage them. From that list it’s two clicks to select and log in to any given form, so checking all my statements, bills, and accounts is a simple matter of scrolling through the list and opening up any accounts that I think I might need to check. To check my credit card, for example, I used to have to pull out the card and type in the number, which inevitably took place on a sunday morning in the wintertime when I’m wearing my slippers and it’s snowing. The mental process was something like, “where’s my wallet? Oh, the briefcase. Wait, it’s still in the car. And the car is in the driveway with six inches of snow on it. I’ll do that later.”

And now? I skim the list in 1Password, click the name and then click the web form login to check my balance, make a payment — for every single bill or account I have. It’s too easy, so I just check in that Verizon bill any time I wonder how I’m doing. And about every three weeks I just run down the list and check all the accounts that involve money. Honestly, it’s awesome.

And of course it handles all those logins for social networking, webmail, my usermin control panel, mailing lists, and so forth. In fact, I let 1Password store just about every single login I have; when it’s so easy to save with the app, why take up any mental space with keeping a login that might be a one-off, after all? And beyond passwords, it keeps all kinds of other information, making it able to smartly fill in things like credit card payment forms. Further, it saves other “wallet” items (like passport numbers) and “smart notes” (ssh passwords).

With the mobile 1Password app for iPhone/iPod Touch, all of this information is accessible on the go. Agile built a web browser that’s highly — but not perfectly — functional for most uses, and it lives inside the app where it accesses your login information directly. Previously, Agile had built a wonky workaround to make that information accessible via a Mobile Safari bookmarklet that synced via Safari bookmarks to the iPod/iPhone. I have to admit that I’m still pretty fond of this approach, and although 1Password doesn’t update the bookmarklet any longer (removed for security reasons?), they can pry that bookmarklet from my cold dead hands. For one thing, Wells Fargo doesn’t like their browser one bit, recommending that I install Safari for Panther instead.

Multiple Macs? 1Password can deal. Just sync your 1Password keychain (either the OSX keychain or the new “Agile Keychain” format) and you’re good to go. For the past ten months, I used Unison to handle this syncing, but just recently switched to Dropbox, and it works like a charm to keep everything updated on both my current machines.

Finally (I know, I know), the single time I’ve needed to contact the folks at Agile for some tech support, they were on the issue promptly and responded personally. Nice.

What doesn’t 1Password do? It’s a short list. Logins for some sites — for my account with ING, and my mortgage account, for example — just elude its ability to detect and autocomplete. So it’s not perfect on that score, but it’s awfully good. Update Oct 25: Thanks to Carl at Agile Web Solutions, I have an answer to at least one of those tricky sites. Thanks, Carl! And I would love if it were capable of filling in items in Terminal, like those ssh passwords, but I think the devs have wisely focused on making it speak smartly to web browsers instead of a longer list of apps.

So. 1Password is really, really good stuff. Check it out.

Good Apps: Instapaper

It only took a few minutes with the free version of Instapaper on the iPod to make it quite clear that this is one app worth paying for.

Marco Arment sums up the app better than I can:

Instapaper facilitates easy reading of long text content.

We discover web content throughout the day, and sometimes, we donít have time to read long articles right when we find them.

Instapaper allows you to easily save them for later, when you do have time, so you donít just forget about them or skim through them.

Simply and straightforwardly, Instapaper works in conjunction with a simple web interface to download articles or blog posts — or anything else that the handy bookmarklet can save — to your iPhone/iPod Touch, making them available offline for reading whenever the time and mood strikes.

Unlike altogether too many App Store applications, Marco offers a free version of Instapaper along-side the “Pro” version, which means that it’s easy to test out the app without making a commitment. Before a trip to Dallas a few weeks ago, I downloaded the full-featured free version and loaded it up with maybe a dozen long-ish blog posts and some other things I have been meaning to read. This process is about as simple as it gets: Click the “Read Later” bookmarklet to save any article to your Instapaper account, and then sync the Instapaper app to that account. The app will download both web- and text-only versions of the article and save them to the iPod. Later, on the plane or between meetings at that wifi-unfriendly hotel lounge, just open up Instapaper and there you find the articles:

instapaper screenshot

Open one up and read away. (Instapaper Pro even saves your position so you can come and go from long articles easily)

instapaper screenshot

Since it’s a bookmarklet, you can sync Mobile Safari on your Pod/Phone and flag things for later reading while you’re on the go, as well. And since the backend of Instapaper provides a web service, you can also read and manage all those articles from any web browser.

The Pro version does have some nice added features that are worth the $10 purchase price. But what makes Instapaper truly worth the money is that the developer has, in my mind, made precisely the kind of app that’s worth supporting.


I’m sequestered at Schussman North, enjoying a bit of snow. But I can’t help but check in in response to Kieran’s waving of the semi-transparent lucite Mac signal flag.

Holy cow, this sucker looks cool.

But why, Apple, why locked in to Cingular?

Text editors have more fun

When was the last time Microsoft Office gave you a holiday treat? TextMate gets all dressed up for Halloween.

textmate's halloween icon

More photos at flickr.

Steel cage

On the matter of Mac wifi security, John Gruber throws down.

They get letters

A few short letters I thought of writing during and after my trip to Montreal for ASAs:

Dear Fortunate Timing: Thanks for taking me to Montreal on Wednesday, instead of Thursday.

Dear Canada: Your twenty dollar bill is lovely.

Dear Montreal: I really like your city but I think you ought to work on the whole running-red-lights-at-high-speed issue. Admittedly, it was impressive to see that Porsche rocket down the hill, but the narrow margin between it and my knees still makes me a little queasy.

Dear Air Canada: My overall experience with you was quite nice. Forgetting to transfer my baggage to terminal 2 in Toronto so that I could clear customs in time to catch my flight to Phoenix, however, was a pretty big oops. Thanks for holding the plane a little longer.

Dear Customs/Immigration Guy: I was sweating because I had been running. Didn’t mean to freak you out or anything. Still, you could have been a little nicer when it took me a second to get my brain in gear and tell you what I’ve been doing in Canada. For a few seconds, “Waiting with low blood sugar for my bag” was all I could think of.

Dear Apple: I had earlier believed that I had escaped the sudden and random shutdowns I hear tell of on the MacBook. Turns out, not so much. It’s hard to write and give a presentation on a computer that doesn’t turn on. It’s like the prettiest, most expensive lucite paperweight I’ve ever seen, currently. *

Dear ASA: Again with the cross-country trip? 2007 is New York. Maybe 2008 could be in Miami, or Boston, or Chicago—yeah, we haven’t all gone there for at least a couple of years. How about some attention to the West? Seriously, Salt Lake City hosted the olympics; I think it could handle us, but you’d all have to get over the High Culture bias first. I can tell you where to go for a beer, if you want. Denver, Seattle, San Diego, and Portland are also just fine.

Dear ASA: If you’re going to have conference hotels, how about having the conference, you know, at the hotels? The palais was a pretty neat building, but if the meetings aren’t even going to involve the hotels in the slightest, maybe we could promote any of the multiple very nice, much cheaper, free-breakfast-including spots instead? Again, you’d have to get over the High Culture bias first.

Dear cabbie: You say you’ve been driving that elderly couple, the one I shared a ride back to the airport at 5am with, all week? Do they know how much you’ve been ripping them off? The hotel-airport fare isn’t normally $50, dude.

Dear Portugese restaraunt on Crescent: You’re kidding, right? The only thing Portugese about our meal was … well, I don’t know anything about Portugese food, but I’m pretty sure you don’t either.

Dear French-Canadian TV: Wow, we can’t show anything like that on broadcast television in the States. How very European. Also, I caught a little bit of Star Trek 2 dubbed into French late one night. Know what’s the same in any language? “KAAAAAHHHNNN!”

Dear sociology bloggers: Sorry I couldn’t stay. See you next year.

* I was going to do the joke where I write, “My computer has been shutting itself down unexpect NO CARRIER”, but Drek beat me to it. Damn you and your compatible sense of humor, Drek.

Update 8/26/2006: Because I know folks are on the edge of their seats, I returned the MacBook for repair, received it three days later, and it has performed great ever since. Fingers crossed that Apple has zeroed in on the shutdowns problem and I’ll have smooth computing from here on out.

Back in Mac

Just in time for the 4th of July, the (once-suspected to be ill-fated) MacBook was delivered on Monday. The good news is that they didn’t end up formatting the hard drive—as is frequently done during repair—so I didn’t have to spend two days getting everything put back together again. Various case pieces are at least better fit together than they were, but there is still a bit of gaposis. No way in hell I’m sending it in again, though.

So now it’s full steam ahead with unlimited productiv—hey, widgets!


What’s a fair per-day rental rate for a MacBook? ‘Cause I’m thinking about drafting an invoice.


As of today, June 30:



That looks awfully familiar.


Update: Hey, hey, hey:


What's happening?

Apparently, the pending part of return pending is more fluid than I imagined it would be. MacBook Repair Return Watch as of today, June 23, unchanged from Tuesday, June 20:



Spare parts

A quick update on the MacBook repair front, because I know you’re all sympathetic to my plight. After being misrouted by DHL, the package was a bit delayed getting to the repair facility, and I talked to AppleCare this morning, since I’ve been staring at the unchanging status message for a week:


It turns out that they’re really repairing it. They’ve replaced most of the external case in order to fix the warp, and are waiting on some parts to finish up. On one hand, it strikes me as good practice to repair, rather than replace, the unit, even if it involves fairly dramatic re-building of the MacBook’s body (“we have the technology…”). It suggests that somebody is actually looking at the work that is being done, and I like the idea of Apple Certified Craftsmen running their fingers along the case seams. (To be fair, there are plenty of things that I like—gnomes, for instance—whose actual existence I’m not prepared to assert.) And it makes it more likely I’ll get back the same quiet and not-too-hot machine that I started with. On the other hand I’m a bit cranky because they won’t have the final couple of parts (at the master Apple repair facility, they have to wait for parts?) for “another few business days.”

So on balance I think the good outweighs the bad, but I’m still more-than-ready to get back to work on that fun little machine.


June 20 update. A change in status.




Now I just hope to get the shipment before evacuation.

My mostly-good MacBook

There is good news about the MacBook, and there is bad news about the MacBook. The good news is that in ten days of use I haven’t seen any of the extreme heat or moo-noise issues that are making the rounds on the complain-a-rama forums. Instead, I have had a solid week+ of perfect performance: It’s fast (I put 2GB of RAM in it), quiet, not unreasonably hot (no more so on the lap than the Toshiba it is replacing), has a keyboard that takes a bit of getting used to but is quite nice to work with, and the screen is slick: A nice wide aspect ratio, clear and sharp. It’s light enough to carry around for a twenty-minute walk from one’s hotel to a coffee shop or campus.

And until the last few days, I would have noted that the build quality is excellent. I was going to say that the laptop has a bit of heft, but it’s a solid, comfortable-feeling piece of equipment. And so we come to the bad news: It’s still largely solid, but the bezels around the keyboard and the screen have some warp—whether it was there when I received the MacBook or developed over the past week of (relatively light) use, I’m not sure. But it’s certainly there now. I’ve posted a few photos.

Manufacturing defect? Purely cosmetic? Something that represents a heat-related issue? Something that will get worse? I don’t know. On one hand, it strikes me as a mostly but not entirely cosmetic issue, and I hate to be That Guy who gets all cranky when his laptop gets a scrape. But I’m concerned that this represents a defect that could come back and cost me more time/money/effort in the future. And the nice people on the phone at Apple did indicate that it’s something that they can remedy, so as much as I don’t want to give up my otherwise-perfectly-functioning LovelyBook, I’m going to ship it on home for a checkup.

If it comes back mooing, I’m gonna be pissed.


Update: Apple has a pretty slick mail-in repair program, with just two potential issues: 1) They seem to have forgotten to put my pickup order in the system the first time around, and 2) They should probably put the number to notify DHL that you’re ready for them to pickup the box, on something other than the invoice that you seal up inside of the box. Just sayin’. Folks need that number, and it’s all taped up inside the box.

Making iCal speedy again

Idiosyncratic technical note no. 4: Calendaring in molasses

For some reason, iCal recently slowed way down on me. Like “click and go make coffee while iCal finds focus” slow. I found a solution in the comments thread here and it seemed worth sharing.

  1. Quit iCal
  2. Find ~/Library/Application Support/iCal
  3. Move the entire “Sources” folder to the desktop
  4. Re-launch iCal. It will look horrifyingly empty for a few seconds, but will rebuild shortly, inserting all your previous tasks, schedules, subscribed calendars, etc.
  5. Take it for a spin; it should be much faster
  6. Trash the old Sources folder (note there’s a new shiny one in the directory)

Covert stylings

This post by Lago is ostensibly a rant about Griffin being unacceptably behind the times. But I can read between the lines. “I got one!” he’s saying. “Badger me for my impressions of the lovely new dual-core Intel iMac!”

Life in Mac years

The next few weeks might be a super time to pick up pre-Intel Macs at bargain prices, though if you have the cash, who would really want to? The new MacBook looks slick (though like Tom, I’m not sure about the name change); I wonder if its stock 512 MB of ram will be more sensible with the new Intel chips than it was with previous processors? Likewise, the new iMac with its dual Intel chips looks smokin’—but I’ll hold onto my G5 iMac as long as I can. Rent, and all. It was just months ago that Apple was unveiled the second, then third, generation of its iMac line; today the line wholly jumped the track and grew wings. Just another year with three generations of product.

Switched, one month later

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.

About, the short version

I’m a sociologist-errant. This site is powered by Textpattern, Pair Networks and the sociological imagination. For more about me and this site, see the long version.

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