Showing posts from May, 2008

Why switching to Mac was the right move for me

I'm now at the four month mark in my move to Mac. It didn't start out as a switch; when I bought my MacBook in the beginning of February I was really looking for an excuse to play with some new technology. I was satisfied—not excited mind you but satisfied—to use Windows as my operating system. I had my development environment on Windows and was well versed in all the ins and outs of it. I custom built my PCs myself, mildly over-clocking them to get better performance and being very comfortable in trouble shooting virtually any class of problem. I was a pretty hardcore Windows guy.
What started as an addition to my little technology family evolved pretty rapidly though. Not only did I find the Mac intriguing and fun to use, I found myself enjoying my Windows machine that much less. The MacBook went from a curiosity to a cool toy to my preferred personal productivity tool in a very short period of time. After a couple of months I hadn't really switched though, my MacBook was…

Fixing a simple Time Machine error

This morning I nudged the mouse on my Mac Pro and was welcomed with the following window: Funny thing is that the dialog has an OK button. It's really not OK. Why not? Because it didn't tell me where the problem was.

As I've said before, I love the simplicity of Time Machine, though presenting an error message like this is not very helpful. Something - anything - to indicate what went wrong would be a good idea. I accept that you don't want to scare off the non-techies with a detailed error message but having a little "more" link that described what the problem is would have helped.
Rather than investigate I decided to go with the flow. I clicked the OK button and then told Time Machine to back up now. It happily whirred away and looked like everything was fine, then at the very end up popped the failure notification again. Crap.
I did what I always do when something unexpected happens on my computer: I Google'd up the error message. There were a number of so…

Sync with Google Contacts in 10.5.3 - Not

I was scanning through the news feeds yesterday and came across an official Google Mac Blog post that says I can now synchronize my Google contact list with my local address book. There's even a nice little picture of it:
So after updating to 10.5.3 I fired up Address Book and looked at the preferences but the Google Sync option at the bottom was missing. I did a little research and apparently this is only an option if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch that's been hooked to your Mac. I'd love an iPhone but I don't have one so apparently the option is not available to me. I don't really understand the logic behind that one.

A note to the Google folks that run that blog: perhaps you should update your article to reflect that this only works if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch?
Lifehacker (an outstanding site) has a hack that is supposed to get it working on Macs that are not tethered to an iPhone or Touch.  Turns out there are some problems with using that method based o…

Apple releases 10.5.3 - how the update went

I saw this afternoon that Apple has released the 10.5.3 update and decided that I would update my MacBook. The update itself is 420MB in size and took me about 20 minutes to download using my Verizon FIOS connection. I simply did the Apple / Software Update... route and let it download and install it.
Before I did that I forced Time Machine to do a "back up now" to make sure I had a current picture of my Mac. Once the download was complete it spent some more time doing installs (about 5 minutes or so), then prompted me that it needed to reboot the machine.
The reboot process ran about 5 minutes (spinning gear) before it prompted me to log in. Once that was done I was up and running, though not everything was available immediately. The Dashboard was not available initially and a quick look at iStat menu showed some pretty heavily sustained CPU and disk activity. Dashboard came back after a little while but Spotlight was still out until 12 minutes in because it was "indexin…

Taking Quicksilver for a spin

I've now been blogging about my Mac experience for nearly four months. In that time I've had one product consistently recommended to me by the readers of this blog: Quicksilver. Initially I was getting so many recommendations for different products to try that I couldn't keep track of all of them and Quicksilver was one I would get to "some day".
As the weeks went by I continued to get Quicksilver recommendations. Finally I decided to look into it a bit more. I went to the web site and started to poke around. I scanned through a couple of tutorials and was basically a bit overwhelmed - while Quicksilver could be used as a simple Spotlight replacement it also had a huge number of plugins that would provide enhanced functionality. I like my Mac because it's simple, not complicated, and Quicksilver looked like it would take a fair amount of work to just get configured properly. I watched a screen cast from a now defunct web site that contained 10 minutes of a fas…

Make Spotlight find your kind of files

Spotlight is a great feature in Leopard, one that I use every day. My primary use up until lately has been to launch applications with it; if I don't see the application I want in the Dock bar I simply hit Command-Space and type in the first few letters of the application. Since applications are pushed to the top I can often just hit Return and my application is loading up. Even if the application is in the Dock bar sometimes I'll use Spotlight because it's so quick.
I was working through a fantastic article from Kirk McElhearn in Macworld about finding files fast. He has a bunch of tips on how to make the most of both Spotlight and Finder. It's an excellent read and I highly recommend it.
With a plethora of tips available I realized that I really would not incorporate all of them into my daily usage. There was one tip however that jumped out at me as very helpful.
Using kind: in the search to find that pesky PDF file Spotlight searches for a great many things; application…

Why my disk and CPU are busy without me

I'm off at the beach this weekend with the family so I brought the trusty MacBook along. Overnight I closed the lid, putting the MacBook to sleep, and not long after I opened it this morning iStat menu was showing a lot of CPU activity and I could hear the disk thrashing a bit. I wasn't running anything other than Safari at the time so I became curious; what was causing the machine to work all of a sudden?

When I looked at iStat it was showing that the find process was using 75% of my CPU activity. But what was find and why was it working now?
After a little research I found that according to Apple's sitefind is a file system maintenance utility and that it is run as part of a daily, weekly and monthly schedule. Since I had put the MacBook into sleep mode overnight and the daily and weekly scheduled tasks had not run OS X decided to run it not long after I took it out of sleep mode. Normally these maintenance tasks are scheduled to run at 03:15 everyday, 04:30 on Saturdays, …

Making the most of QuickLook

It was only a month ago that I really discovered the QuickLook feature - arguably one of the most popular features in Leopard, especially if yesterday's informal poll was any indication.  It's hard for Windows users like me that have switched to adopt all of the newer features and QuickLook was one that took me a while.
I decided to follow the advice of several folks here and look around at the various plugins that are available for QuickLook to see if they would help my experience even more. There appears to be two web sites dedicated to cataloging QuickLook Plugins:

QuickLook Plugins List QLPlugins
Both sites contain mostly the same content but provide slightly different value - both have RSS feeds which makes it easy to stay on top of new plugins as they are discovered. I scanned through the lists and found 3 plugins that I'm already enjoying:
BetterZip QuickLook Generator I'm rather surprised that Apple didn't include this one in OS X, especially given the way ZIP fi…

My favorite feature in OS X is...

Mac OS X 10.5 has some amazing features and as a recent switcher from Windows to Mac I've spent a lot of time using as many of them as I could so that I could really become proficient with my Mac. This morning I got to thinking: if I had to choose one single feature in OS X that I would have a difficult time without, what would it be?
For me that feature is Spaces.
My use of Spaces has become highly tuned now. On my dual screen Mac Pro I have 6 Spaces and keep certain types of application targeted in each of them. Here's how I use them:
 1) NetNewsWire  2) iTunes  3) Safari / Adium  4) Open work area  5) Rails development area  6) VMware Fusion / Windows XP 
Which means that when activated it looks like this: I have mouse button 6 on my Logitech mouse dedicated to Spaces so I can quickly navigate when I'm in "mouse mode", I have F5 dedicated to Spaces on the keyboard when I'm in touch type mode and I use either Control-Option-Arrow to move between spaces quickly o…

Making TextMate really dance with PeepCode

Since I've been learning Ruby on Rails I decided to take a step back and become as proficient as possible with TextMate. For those that don't know about it, TextMate is a fantastic editor available exclusively on the Mac platform. What makes it such a great editor is not that it has a wonderful editing surface or is able to save files faster than some other tool - from that standpoint it's not really all that different than TextEdit.
What make TextMate so cool is that it provides some great extensions - called Bundles - that can help you use it much as you might an Interactive Development Environment (IDE) in a complete development package. You can either create your own Bundles with language templates and helpers or you can choose from a large array of different Bundles that are freely available for TextMate.
There is a very good Ruby on Rails bundle that actually ships with TextMate. It has a number of features that can not only make quick work of class and definition task…

Out with the Logitech driver, in with USB Overdrive

I've had a little problem with my Logitech Control Center driver for a while now. I would get this little LCC Update icon appearing in my Dock every once in a while. It seemed as though the updater was trying to tell me something. I would click on the icon but nothing would appear. Going to the Logitech site would result in seeing the same version available for download that I already had on my machines. This was occurring on both my MacBook and Mac Pro so I was pretty sure it wasn't hardware specific.
I also had a problem with TextMate, my favorite programmer's editor. Every time I would try to use the "mate" terminal command it would generate an exception and not load TextMate. I could start TextMate from the Dock bar or through Spotlight or by clicking on the icon, but the symbolic link that TextMate created for me was not working. Since I've been playing with Ruby on Rails I'm spending a lot of time in a terminal window and access to this …

Knowing where you are in Leopard's Finder

It's happened to me many times; I'm deep into the folder structure of one of my hard drives and I lose track of where I am. Sometimes I will double click on a folder name to make it the primary view but then I lose context.
While the Show Path Bar option in the Finder is helpful it's a little too verbose for me. It displays each of the folder icons as well as the folder names. I just want a quick path to the folder I'm looking at.
It turns out there is a Finder setting that you can use to display the full path of your current view in the title bar of the Finder window.

Open a terminal session and enter the following:
defaults write _FXShowPosixPathInTitle -bool YES

Once that command has been executed you will need to relaunch the Finder for the change to take effect. You can do this by holding down the Option key and then right-clicking the Finder in the Dock bar then selecting the Relaunch option.
Coming from the Windows world I always liked to have my com…

Roll your own Dashboard Radar Widget in 30 seconds

I spent the first 30 years of my life in sunny Southern California where the weather report primarily consisted of a recitation of the smog alert levels and information on what was happening in the rest of the country. Having lived on the East coast for the last 15 years weather has become a little more important to me - we actually have a lot of it.
I was playing around with the Dashboard yesterday, looking for a decent widget to help me get a good radar picture of my area. The weather widget that comes with Leopard is okay because it shows a forecast in a pleasing format however for those days when you have a serious thunderstorm in the area or a Nor'easter parks it's butt on your house you like to get a better idea of when it's going to vacate the area. For that, nothing beats a nice animated radar view of the weather:

The best weather radar I've found for the US is from the Wunderground weather site. So the technique I'm going to share with you will take less tha…

Common Myths for the Macintosh

There are lots of reasons that people don't want to switch from Windows to Macintosh. I assume the most common reason is simply because Windows works for the people that are using it. The old adage "If it ain't broke don't fix it" tends to apply here. These people are not upgrading to Vista either, they're staying with Windows XP or even Windows 98 and are just fine.
There are however an increasing number of people that are moving to Macs now - many of them people like me that hated Macs at one time. I believe there are lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is that people that are running Windows XP are faced with an upgrade to Vista as their next logical step and feel that maybe it's okay to consider a Mac since they have to go through a full operating system refresh anyway.
One of the reasons I was not interested in Macs for a very long time was that I clung to many facts about the Mac that I felt eliminated it from contention. Well, as with ma…

Avoid the potholes when switching from Windows to Mac

Thinking about switching from Windows to Mac? Got a shiny new Mac and you want to learn the ropes quickly after spending years on Windows? Got a friend that just converted and they say the Mac doesn't work like Windows? This quick guide should help overcome the most common problems new switchers encounter.
Most Windows applications tend to comprise of an EXE file and a number of other peripheral files, such as DLLs, Help files, third party controls, etc that are often placed in different directories on your machine. Mac applications generally come in a package that appear to be a single file to you as a user. In reality there are multiple files to most applications, they are just packaged up to appear as a single file in OS X.
Installing Applications
In Windows you generally run a setup program to install an application. It is complete and self contained. On Mac there are a couple of different installation models out there. The most common for downloaded software is to si…

Learn by blogging about it

To say the internet provides a revolutionary amount of information quickly and easily is a tremendous understatement. When I sit back and look at how I acquire information now compared to how I did it back in the pre-internet days the changes are profound. What is interesting for me is that fully half of the guidance I obtain these days comes from the tips, rants and raves of people that simply use products the way I do. They just happened to get there before me and were kind enough to write it all down.
When I started this blog a part of me was motivated by a need to add to that collective of information. Basically I wanted to give a little back to that giant interwebs resource. My thought was that I would share the experience from the very beginning of adopting a Macintosh as a new platform. I would write about it as my experience with the machine unfolded, giving people a play by play as I went.
A funny thing happened... I have several friends that switched to Macs well before I did. …

How to let Safari pretend it's IE

Have you ever tried to visit a site that does not support Safari? Sometimes it's because the site uses ancient ActiveX controls, other times it's because they produced a site that simply doesn't render well on anything but a few browsers. They see you come in and immediately show you the door with a message like:
"Sorry! This site requires Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher!"
First, a little backgroundWhen a web browser connects to a web site it passes in a "signature", referred to as the User Agent string. It normally contains information like the operating system your computer is using and the web browser type and version. Web servers and HTML pages can use that signature to conditionally present web pages to you based on the capabilities of your browser. 
If a web site developer has limited resources they may only ensure that their site works with the most popular browser on the web, which is Internet Explorer. If it is an older site that has not been upda…

Switching to Mac isn't right for everyone

When I was in California recently to visit my family I talked to my brother about getting my parents an iMac. Daryl had switched to Mac about 6 months ago and loved it and as you can tell if you've been following my blog for any length of time I've been extremely happy with my switch too. 
Why not share that joy with my parents? It would be great for them to be able to see and speak with their grandkids 2,300 miles away more often and I figured an iMac would be a pretty good solution. iChat and the built in iSight camera are painfully easy to use and my Dad would finally have something other than the TV as a source for his news and information. We would set up a high speed connection with their local cable provider and they'd be good to go!
With that plan fully formed in my head I brought it up to my wife when I returned home from the trip. 
Me: "Daryl and I are thinking about getting Mom and Dad a Mac!"
Wife: "Not a good idea. Don't you remember how it went…

Finding a new way to learn Ruby on Rails

I'm about a week into my learning experience with Ruby on Rails and have encountered a few challenges and also found a couple of resources I'd like to share with you. As with most "as you go" experiences, these blog entries are a point in time picture of where I am so I haven't gotten all of this figured out just yet.
My model for learning In recent years when I adopted a new language or development environment I would simply breeze through the documentation and especially the tutorials. I figured, what the hell, I'm a developer with over 25 years of programming experience. I'm well versed in object oriented principles, design and coding practices, etc. This won't be hard!
The reality is by simply scanning over the tutorial information I was doing myself a disservice, learning a surface level knowledge of the development model. I would pay the price when I would start to do my actual application development work, making my mistakes in my real code. I als…

Playing with Ruby on Rails

I've had this on-again, off-again experience with Ruby on Rails. For those of you that don't know Ruby on Rails is a really simple framework and model for building Web applications very quickly and easily. This is not new news and in fact Ruby on Rails has gotten some very significant attention. As a Microsoft guy for many years I simply glanced in the direction of Rails and said "meh". I was immersed in the Microsoft development tools for so many years I wasn't willing to look very hard at things outside my .Net / Visual Studio / C# comfort zone.
My positive experience with my Mac switch led me to rethink that strategy, or at least give it a much better try than the quick glances I gave it before. I did a lot of research, found a lot of information and have found lots of controversy as to whether there is a future in Ruby on Rails. I've also found lots of evidence that some pretty large sites are using Ruby on Rails for their projects. In spite of all that I …