Books, Computers, CREATIVE, JUST SAYING, RANDOMIZER9.COM, Seven Super-Short Sci-Fi Stories, TECH, Writing

Mac Musings

Buy me now!

I own a 24-inch iMac.  I bought it when I had some extra money on my hands and I wanted to see how ‘the other half’ lived.  I’d also had a Gateway crap out on me after just three years.  The iMac came with Leopard, which I obediently upgraded to Snow Leopard, and I haven’t upgraded OS X since.  Yeah, I know, I’m a terrible iPerson for not shelling out the cash for Lion or Mountain  Lion or Griffin or Hydra or whatever their next update is going to be called, but I have no desire to.  I appreciate that OS X is probably wonderful for people that ‘aren’t into computers,’ but I am not one of those people.

In addition to Snow Leopard, my iMac boots into Windows 7.  To further add insult to injury, I keep a Windows XP virtual machine handy in OS X for when I need to do ‘real’ computer work, because OS X just doesn’t do it for me.

I cut my teeth on MS-DOS 3.1 and remember futzing around with AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS in order to play Wing Commander.  I remember making a 3.5” bootable floppy with a batch file I wrote called Kenny on it for those inevitable times when I would have to reformat my PC after poking at Windows 98 too many times with a sharp stick.  Plug n’ Play started out as Plug and Pray and we all wondered why we had to reboot our machines after changing the lousy screen resolution.  The Unix lab at the University was for Computer Science majors only and the servers had monitors that were as big as my TV set back home.  I remember the sysadmin telling us to clean out our core dumps when the drives filled up, and one guy being labeled “The JPEG King” because his directory was full of megabytes (yes, MEGABYTES) of porn, which was promptly deleted by the sysadmin.

Good times, and yes, I mean that seriously.  For folks like me, part of the fun of owning a computer is goofing around with it and watching what happens.  I don’t do that much anymore, partially because Windows 7 is pretty darn good, and partially because I’d rather be putting words together instead of spending hours under the virtual hood of my PC.

I completed the final text draft of my next e-book “Seven Super-Short Sci-Fi Stories” a few days ago, and all that remained for me to do was take those words, squash them into an e-book, and upload it to the iBookstore for all to see and buy.  Of course, uploading it into the iBookstore would mean I would have to boot into OS X and send the .epub file to them using Apples super-special uploader program (iTunes Producer) because it, of course, its OS X only.

The first time I had tried to do so for “The Rules of Tech Support,” I encountered a problem with the .epub file I was trying to send.  The file worked just fine in Kindle, worked just fine on Nook and even passed ePub validation, but it just wasn’t good enough for Apple.

Luckily, Apple technical support helped me make my file Apple-friendly and all was well.  I was a little miffed to find out that the problem was that one line was missing from a specific file.  This time, I knew that I had to add that one line before trying to send the file to Apple.  I added the line, recreated the file, and waited for the upload to complete so I could start waiting for someone at Apple to bless it and put it up for sale.

The second time, for “One Sheet Stories” the process went without a hitch, so I was baffled, because this time I got a different error.  Crap.

I sent an error report to Apple, but I knew from previous experience that I was going to have to wait until at least until the next day to get a response.  To Apple’s credit, I always get a response within 24 hours whenever I send error reports, but I wanted my book uploaded now.  On a hunch, I fired up the aforementioned Windows XP virtual machine, did the exact same thing I did in OS X.  I resent the file and was rewarded with success.

While I was happy to have accomplished my goal, I was irked that OS X had failed me where Windows had handled the task with aplomb.  Sadly, if I wish to continue publishing e-books onto the iBookstore, I will need to keep the iMac, but like any good geek, I will always have a backup Windows machine handy.

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Android, Apple, RANDOMIZER9.COM, Tablets, TECH

Tablet Thoughts

As I work on my Acer Iconia TAB A100 review and read the headlines coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show, I keep hearing about why Android tablets haven’t quite caught on. I keep hearing the same arguments: Android is fragmented, Android tablets are all the same, blah blah blah. What I don’t hear anyone talking about is how overpriced some of these Android tablets are.

Any tablet that costs $499 or more is not going to sell unless it is an iPad.  Period.

The iPad is the ‘gold standard’ in tablets right now, and the least expensive one costs $499.   If a competing product cannot be as good as an iPad then it has to cost less, or else that person will just buy an iPad.  Android is nice, but it is not as easy to use as iOS.

Keep in mind that I am referring to the average person when I make these statements.  Nerds such as myself are willing to live with a learning curve and some obfuscation.  We like figuring things out, we’re just funny that way.  The average person isn’t as patient, though, they want to turn a device on and be able to do things from the get-go.  That is why iOS is as successful as it is.  Granted, there is a lot that you can’t do with it, which is frustrating to nerds like myself, but the majority of people tend to not care about stuff like HDMI ports and memory card slots.

I think Amazon did two smart things with the Kindle Fire: first, they sold it for cheaper than the iPad, but more importantly, they didn’t make an iPad. The Fire is significantly smaller than an iPad, and doesn’t look like one when you start it up.  Sure, if you’re a nerd you can argue about how yes, its really Android under the hood and does mostly the same things as an iPad and all that, but to the average person it is different.

Sadly, the bargain prices for the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are going to make it harder for other 7-inch tablets to gain any traction unless they drop in price as well, so it may not necessarily be a good thing for Android in general.  Then again, the functionality they leave out is fairly significant, so it may not necessarily be a bad thing, either.

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Apple, Computers, TECH, Videogames

Apple is the new Nintendo (which is the new Apple!)

Somedays it is easy to believe that I have waken up in Bizarro-world.  Apple recently decided that the iPod Touch was going to be a game machine.  Nintendo turned the DS into a music player with the DSi, (using Apple’s codec, of all things!)  In addition, Nintendo announced the DS XL not even a year after the DSi’s release.

What’s next, a new version of Windows that actually works?

Oh…

I have thought of Nintendo as being the “Apple” of the video game industry for some time.  Much like Apple, they march to their own beat and don’t worry about what “the other guys” are doing.  Sometimes it works out great, sometimes they trip over their own innovations, and sometimes they are just too far ahead of the curve for their own good.  At the end of the day, they make lots of money and have lots of die-hard fans.

Apple, of course, has long been known for “thinking different,” as well as for Steve Jobs, overpriced hardware, constantly re-releasing new iterations of said hardware with minor updates, and not being very interested in gaming.  At the end of the day, they also make lots of money and have lots of die-hard fans.

Thus, it came as a surprise to see Apple take a page out of Nintendo’s book, as they touted the iPod Touch as their new portable “game machine.”  Apple was also pretty blatant in promoting their device as being superior to Nintendo and Sony’s portable offerings.  The beauty of Apple’s approach is that Apple itself does not have to make any of the games themselves.

Nintendo, for its part, recently announced the DS XL, a curious move which defies traditional gadget logic.  After all, things are supposed to get smaller over time, not bigger!  In fact, the 4-inch screen of the XL nearly brings it to par with Sony’s PSP.

Speaking of Sony, Lord only knows what they’re thinking…I mean, seriously, $250 for the PSPgo?

For all of the hype, I don’t see games being a big part of Apple’s overall strategy; instead they will be another revenue stream just like apps and music.  The games themselves have been mostly casual affairs, the ‘big budget’ titles have come from EA and their ilk…as if they needed another platform to release Madden onto.

It remains to be seen whether Nintendo will be adding other multimedia functions to take advantage of the DS XL’s bigger screen.  While a video player would be much appreciated by DS users, it won’t contribute to Nintendo’s bottom line, so I doubt we will see that happening anytime soon.

While Nintendo and Apple have taken pages out of each other’s business plans, the fundamental core of what both companies will remain the same, so long as the DS and iPod continue to be money-makers.

I suppose Bizarro-world isn’t such a bad place to be after all.

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Apple, Computers, TECH

Mac and Me – Not Quite A Mighty Mouse

I like buttons.  They’re fun to push, and they usually make something that I want to happen, happen!  Heck, a standard keyboard (a standard PC keyboard anyway) has over 100 of them, whee!  Apple, on the other hand, does not like buttons.

Seriously;  the one button on the iMac is hidden in the back, the mouse that came with it does not appear to have any at all, and  I’m sure that somewhere within the bowels of Apple, some engineer is scratching their head trying to figure out a way to get rid of the single button on the iPhone’s face.

As I mentioned last week, the Mac’s Mighty Mouse (seriously, that’s what Apple calls it) is the one part of the Mac experience that irritates me the most.  It lacks a distinct right click button and refuses to acknowledge my futile attempts at right-clicking.  After another week of missed right-clicks and re-right-clicks I finally replaced it with a $20 Logitech wireless mouse.  Its colored black, so it ruins the aesthetic of my workspace somewhat, but I’ll gladly take functionality over fashion.  Actually, I’ll take anything over fashion, but that’s a discussion for another day.

I tossed the Mighty Mouse into my netbook bag where it will ruin the aesthetic of my HP Mini 1000, and thus, the balance of the universe is maintained!

Once I adjusted to the Logitech’s heft, all was well.  Now if I could just figure out a way to get my keyboard shortcuts back, everything would be PERFECT.  I may also give Safari another shot, I’m hearing good things about the beta.

It has been two weeks since I took the plunge and my Mac has been treating me pretty good so far.  I’ll boot into Vista occasionally to play a game or work with Microsoft Money, but otherwise all is well with Mac and Me!

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Apple, Computers, TECH

Mac and Me – One Week Later

My new PC-free desktop!

It has been a week since I took the Apple plunge, and I my iMac/OS X experience has been pretty good so far (the one big fark-up was my fault).  I moved the files from my PC’s old hard drive last night, so its time to “move in” to the Mac for good.  My thoughts so far:

SCREEN

I have to start by talking about the iMac’s screen, it is gorgeous. I’m not sure what is different about it, but everything just looks better; more sharper, more vibrant.  The 24″ of real estate is a dream to work on.  Why have multiple monitors cluttering the desk when one honkin’ HUGE one will do?  I have yet to use the camera and mic as of yet, but I’m looking forward to trying them out.

The DVD drive is a located a little farther back than I would like, I’ve already dropped a disc trying to find the slot, and the occasional not-quite-perfectly-flat disc can get a little noisy, but that’s true for all DVD drives, so I can’t knock it too much for that.

The built-in speakers are the worst part of the screen/CPU/whatever Apple calls it.  I’m no audiophile, but they sound pretty bad to me, I quickly plugged in my basic 3-piece Altec Lansing set and Huey Lewis sounds just as good as he did on my PC.

KEYBOARD

The small keyboard freaked me out at first, especially since I like using the numeric keypad.  It is just bigger than the keyboard on my HP Mini 1000 netbook, with more space inbetween the keys.  The action on the keyboard is nice and typing is pretty quiet. I’ve had to re-learn typing shortcuts, due to the lack of HOME/END and PGUP/PGDN keys, but it hasn’t been too painful.  That cord is just too damned short, though.  I was taught that it was a bad idea to be sitting so close to a computer screen.  A USB extension cord fixed that problem easily enough, and I placed a USB hub on the end of it, because you can never have too many ports.

MIGHTY MOUSE

The mouse took some getting used to, particularly due to the lack of distinct buttons.  The Mighty Mouse is not Apple’s worst mouse ever (that distinction goes to the “hockey puck”) but the right-click is pretty finicky, and the “4th button” (pressed by squeezing the indentations you see on the sides) all but drove me bonkers.  I don’t exactly have basketball-player sized hands, but I am accustomed to having my hand covering up the entire mouse.  At random intervals this would activate the 4th button and I would be yanked out of whatever I was doing and taken into Expose, which shows you all open windows at once.  Very distracting, especially when I’m trying to beat my Bejeweled Blitz high score.  Disabling Expose fixed that problem, and I’m not sure how useful I’m really going to find the 4th button.  Much to my surprise, I have had no problems with the teeny scroll ball.  If worse comes to worse, I’ll drop $20 on a new Logitech mouse.

PERFORMANCE

I haven’t really put the iMac through its paces yet (i.e. video editing) but so far it seems to handle multitasking quite well.  As I type this into Firefox, CDs are being ripped into iTunes and I am also IMing a friend.  Everything runs without any hesitations or hiccups so I guess that’s pretty good.

OVERALL EXPERIENCE

I have to say, the Mac life is pretty good.  I have yet to experience any of the frustrations that I have long considered to be the “facts of life” of using computers:

No more defragging, no more anti-virus, no more anti-spyware, no more hunting for old driver CDs, no more wondering why the CPU fan is still spinning even though the computer is in sleep mode, no more long boot times, no more waiting for that last program to close when I’m shutting down, no more wondering why flash drives and memory cards won’t unmount even though they aren’t being used, no more wondering if removing that startup program or changing that Registry entry is going to blow the whole thing up, and no more farking annual re-installations of Windows!

I plug in my camera, and up comes iPhoto.  I plug in my printer, and a minute later, I can print.  I drag an external drive to the Trash to eject it, and it unmounts.  Stuff just works! Heck, even Windows Vista works well now that I have enough horsepower to make it happy.

While I’m not sure I will do everything “The Mac Way” I’m looking forward to spending less time maintaining my computer, and more time actually DOING stuff.

After all, isn’t that the whole point of having a computer?

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Apple, Computers, TECH

Mac and Me – VistaMac!

As it turned out, I had screwed up my Mac by trying to install a version of Windows that could not “see” the newly created Boot Camp partition.  Thus, my retail boxed copy of XP was pretty much useless; I would need an XP Service Pack 2 disc.

Fortunately, I had one handy that I “borrowed” from one of my previous employers *evil grin*  Sadly, it would not accept the retail license key I had, so I had to punt and install Vista instead.

My previous experiences with Vista were less than pleasant, but then again I was installing it on a two-year old machine.  Vista just was not happy running on my Gateway’s single-core CPU and 1GB of RAM.   Even after I bumped up the machine’s RAM to 2GB it plodded along, and I could hear the hard drive constantly crunching away while I computed.

I hoped that running it on more capable hardware would provide a better experience.  I figured it should be happy running on a 2.66Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM.  Sure enough, everything went well except for having to sit for about two hours downloading and installing various updates.

I wonder if at some point does it just become cheaper to mail everyone update CDs?  Bandwidth ain’t cheap!

Anyways, once the updates were done and the Mac drivers (and the anti-virus…sigh) were installed, Vista ran like a dream.  After I got Vista up and running, it was really late, so I couldn’t do much else.  Next, I will transfer my PC files over from the Gateway’s old hard drive onto the Mac.

That’s when things should get really interesting!

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Apple, Computers, TECH

Mac and Me – Just Like Starting Over…

Well, THAT was a close one…apparently I got a little too button-happy during the Boot Camp process and farked up my iMac’s hard drive…oops.  The fact that I read ahead in the Boot Camp instructions just a teensy may have contributed as well.

Luckily, I found a solution after digging around Apple’s support website for a bit.  I just have to reformat the hard drive and reinstall OS X, which should be done about the time I wake up tomorrow…argh.

Despite the setback, I intend to try Boot Camp again, hopefully the second attempt will go better (frankly, I don’t see how it could go worse).  Nothing lost but time.

I had taken the liberty of not deleting the pictures from my camera in the event that something went Horribly Horribly Wrong.  It probably says something about me that I planned for something going HHW, but hey, learning the hard way is still learning, so onward and upward!

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