Showing posts from June, 2008

My critical applications 5 months after switching

It's now been 5 months since I switched to Mac, time to update the list of Mac applications I use regularly and have found invaluable for me. My list has changed over time as applications have fallen in and out of favor and the tasks I have done with my Macs have changed. I've done this a coupletimes before so you can see how the list has changed.

When I sat down to write this article I outlined the applications I use frequently and Quicksilver was not even on the list, yet here it is at the very top. Why is that? One of the phrases that is referenced by Quicksilver is "Wei Wu Wei—Act Without Doing". Quicksilver has become an intrinsic part of my workflow, so much so that I don't even notice it is there.

Though I use it primarily as an application launcher much like I used to use Spotlight I have become quite addicted to Quicksilver's snappy user interface. The potential for automating tasks and accessing files with Quicksilver is quite extensive and…

Living with the MacBook Pro

It's now been a couple of weeks since I bought a MacBook Pro and handed my MacBook down to my youngest daughter. In that time I've used the MBP quite a bit and overall I'm quite happy with the upgrade. The only issue that I've had with it has been the heat it generates, though to a large degree I haven't really noticed it any longer. Either my left wrist has adjusted to being slightly warmer than my right wrist or the Fan Control I installed has helped keep the machine running a little cooler. I actually believe it's a bit of both.

I've now used the MBP sitting on my lap and worked with it comfortably for about 2 hours and I didn't even need to use the Belkin Cooling Pad I bought, though I do still use that every once in a while.

The overall performance of the machine has been excellent and—as I mentioned earlier—I love the display. The battery life from the machine has been very good for me and after a couple of hours on battery with moderate use I'm…

Fixing a Windows virus makes me appreciate my Mac

A good friend of mine called me on my cell this morning.
"Yo! Hey brother, I have a problem with my laptop. Can you help me out?"
Walt's a really bright guy but isn't into computers at all. Computers are just another tool for Walter, giving him access to e-mail and the web while he is out on job sites. He works from his truck so it has become his mobile office, with a little Sprint broadband device allowing him to get electronic access from nearly everywhere.
The company he works for is small and since he works hundreds of miles from the headquarters it's up to him to maintain his own computer. He was not a happy camper because Windows was telling him that he had some virus infections and that he needed to clear them out. At this point his machine had become unusable and he wasn't sure what to do next.
Since he was in the area I asked him to swing by so I could take a look at it. The machine itself was a newer Dell laptop running Windows XP. Sure enough, there we…

Screen sharing with Leopard

It was a beautiful day outside so I decided to grab the MacBook Pro and enjoy the delightful weather out on our screened in porch. I had some online reading to do as I am trying to get a handle on Git, the version control system I am going to be using.
While sitting here enjoying the breeze and working through the Git documentation I remembered that I had left Adium running on the Mac Pro downstairs. Many of my friends contact me through AIM and I usually put up an away message if I'm gone for a while. But I just sat down and got comfortable - getting up seemed like a lot of work to me. I decided that now was the perfect time to try out Leopard's Screen Sharing capability.
For some reason Apple decided to bury Screen Sharing down in the following location:
/System/Library/Core Services
I navigated to that in Finder and then dragged it into my Dock to get easier access to it. Once I had that fired up I simply entered the name of my Mac Pro into the Host window and pressed Connect. …

The now daily Time Machine Error

Rarely a day goes by now that Time Machine doesn't produce the dreaded Time Machine Error warning: "Unable to complete backup. An error occurred while copying files to the backup volume." Ironically I get this more on my Mac Pro with dual internal hard drives that check out fine rather than my little MacBook with the slow USB based drive for backup.
Since Time Machine runs hourly I'll get 23 to 47 backups that work fine, then the error. It's always a single file that seems to blow out the backup and generate the message: 
I haven't encountered this on my MacBook Pro yet, only on my Mac Pro. The time machine icon in the menu bar shows this:
I first encountered this problem at the beginning of June and it is definitely a byproduct of the 10.5.3 update. Jeff McCord has documented similar problems on his blog. There seems to be two solutions that work for me:
1) Try again. About half the time just telling Time Machine to try again seems to work.
2) Look at the backup …

My free iPod Touch

Each member of my family—my wife, three children and I—are heavy iPod Nano users. We never got into the iPods with hard drives because they were just too large. When the first Nano model came out I immediately went out and got one for each of us. We do a lot of travel as a family and figured the iPod would be a great way to help reduce the quantity and volume of "Are we there yet?".
At that point we were all still Windows users, each of us running some flavor of Windows XP and using iTunes on it. The Nanos were perfect for us and regardless of where we fell on the technical proficiency scale they were mastered very quickly.  We imported our CD collections and began buying our music through iTunes. 
Over the years we cycled through at least one iPod each. For my wife, son and I it was because we upgraded to a newer model with more memory, video capabilities, etc.
My daughters were a different story. Either both of them are fond of carrying bricks in their oversized purses or the…

Safari or Firefox?

When I was a Windows user I went through several generations of browsers. Starting off with Mosaic, then on to Netscape Navigator and finally, since I was a hard core MS guy, Internet Explorer. Of course back then we called the early versions Internet Exploder because the thing would frequently crash in spectacular ways. Over time Internet Explorer improved and became fairly stable, though it had a huge number of security holes that Microsoft could never seem to get on top of.

Once Internet Explorer became the defacto standard on the Windows platform Microsoft stopped innovating on it and focused on fixing security issues. It was about this time that Mozilla put out the first versions of Firefox and suddenly I had a reason to consider something other than IE. Firefox was quick, had a tabbed interface that IE didn't, didn't have the security holes that IE had and was, for the most part, able to present most web pages just as well as IE.

I quickly adopted Firefox as my default bro…

Switching to iPhoto from Picasa

When I switched to Mac from Windows one of the programs I missed the most was Picasa, Google's free photo management tool. Picasa and iPhoto are very similar and perform many of the same functions, including photo editing basics like red-eye removal, cropping, straightening, etc.
Back in March I talked about the basic differences between Picasa and iPhoto. Since then I've acquired my Mac Pro, shut down the Windows machine that used to be my primary photo archive and moved everything to iPhoto. That has presented some interesting challenges.

For many years I had established a pretty standardized model for storing and managing my photos, necessitated to a large degree because I didn't have a photo management tool other than the Windows file system and Photoshop for the first few years. My system was quite simple: I had a folder for each year and within each year I had a folder for each day. A typical folder structure looked something like this:
When I would take new photos I wo…

Apple does it right when it comes to surveys

Taking surveys is usually something I want to avoid. Often it's because the survey someone wants me to take is just too long or comes from some company I have no relationship with. Every once in a while I come across a company that knows how to collect feedback really well; Apple is one such company.
I have always felt strongly that companies should understand their customers as much as they possibly can and that quick, concise electronic surveys are a great way to do just that. I was involved in the business of collecting survey data for the last 10 years, first at the company I founded (WebSurveyor) and subsequently with the company that resulted from the sale of it (Vovici). I know that space pretty well. [Full Disclosure: Though I am no longer employed by them I remain an investor and sideline supporter of Vovici, which helps companies build online communities for collecting feedback.]
With that background it's been interesting to watch how Apple has gone about collecting fe…

Second Impressions - adjusting to a MacBook Pro

Having the MacBook Pro for a couple of days now has led to me liking the machine quite a bit more than my initial negative impression, caused primarily by the heat it generated. The biggest change was the result of downloading and installing Fan Control based on Charles' recommendation.
With Fan Control installed I've settled in on putting the minimum threshold for the fans at 3,100 RPM and have noticed a considerable difference. My CPU core temp at idle is down in the 40°-43°C range most of the day and I don't get any noticeable warmth under my left palm.
Fan Control is added directly to your System Preferences so it integrates nicely. I didn't play with the thresholds, leaving them at their standard defaults. All I did was push the base speed to 3,100 RPM. I don't hear any real difference in the noise the fan generates though the environments I use the machine are not exactly whisper quiet.
I don't know how much of this heat reduction is due to Fan Control and h…

Replacing a MacBook with a MacBook Pro

On Saturday I pulled the trigger on my MacBook Pro purchase, going with the base model 15" MacBook Pro directly from my local Apple store. Here are the specs:
2.4GHz 2GB RAM 200GB 5,400 RPM hard drive Glossy display
My youngest daughter is quite pleased because this frees up my little MacBook for her. I've been steadily working through getting things transferred and installed on the MacBook Pro and every hour or so my daughter pops in and asks if she can take the MacBook yet.
Soon, honey. Soon.
I'm actually a little reluctant to part with the MacBook now. It is after all a wonderful little machine and to a large degree I appreciate it a bit more with the new MacBook Pro getting all of my attention. I even set about comparing them side by side, taking a few pictures along the way.

From a size standpoint the 15" MacBook Pro is still a pretty small machine. Actually a tiny bit thinner than a MacBook it feels quite sleek and the aluminum case feels very solid and durable compare…

Intimidating people with a Macintosh

Perspective is a funny thing. Here I have happily become a heavy Mac user, thoroughly enjoying my transition from Windows and encouraging friends and family members to consider a Mac when the computer conversations come up, often saying that Macs are so easy to use. As is evidenced by the volume of blog posts I've made on the subject of Macintosh, I clearly feel that everyone is entitled to my opinion, elation and angst.
Earlier this week a good friend of mine—one that is highly technical—told me that his old Windows laptop was dying and that he needed to get a new machine soon. His wife has an iMac and he's played around on it a bit but he never gave me the impression that he was really interested in trying out a Mac as his primary machine. I of course brought up the idea that maybe he should look at a MacBook or MacBook Pro. His response was quite amusing:
"Frankly Dave I'm a bit intimidated by the Mac. I read your blog and it seems like there is so much to learn.&quo…

The monster is back and wants my MacBook

Not long ago I wrote about how I had created a monster with my youngest child, the soon to be 13 year old and very computer savvy little girl that would like me to get her a Mac. With my primary Windows machine on the way out she began to pounce. Like a shark smelling blood in the water, she knew that some funds were being freed up and that this was a good time to push for her getting a MacBook for her birthday next month.
"Daddy, you keep telling me how great your Macs are but I have to use this old Dell. Are you trying to torture me?"
"So Daddy, can I get your MacBook if you get a new MacBook Pro?"
"You know Daddy, if I get a MacBook I'll stop bothering you"
She can reel these off, one after the other, barely pausing to take a breath. Forget water-boarding as a means to extract information from people, just point a pre-teen girl at them and ask her to start with the questions. Still, other than the nagging she is a really great kid. She gets excellent g…

Going back to Windows is really tough

In the brief time that's passed since I completely switched to Mac from Windows I have barely powered up my primary Windows machine. My Mac Pro gets the majority of my attention and since I'm doing my development work in Ruby on Rails now I haven't even had to fire up Windows in a VM very often. The MacBook fills in the rest of my time—usually travel or meetings—with the Ubuntu machine performing some server related tasks (Subversion server and MySQL mostly).
Rather than have an extremely expensive piece of hardware sitting around and depreciating every day I decided to sell it while it still has some value. A buddy of mine on one of the gaming networks I belong to offered to buy it and yesterday I went about the process of cleaning out the machine. Since you can't really sanitize an existing Windows install the best thing to do is just reinstall/reformat Windows XP.
I spent 17 years on Windows so I know my way around, especially when dealing with arcane driver and regis…

We are Apple - a blast from the past

Though I have only been heavily into Mac for about 4 months now I actually have owned a Mac in the past. In late 1983 and early 1984 I worked at an authorized Apple computer store while preparing to drop out of junior college, selling PCs and Apple computers. I was as excited as anyone when the Mac came out and since I worked for an authorized reseller I was able to obtain a Mac at a heavily discounted price. As I recall I paid $2,300 for a 128K Mac and an ImageWriter dot matrix printer. That price also included a big padded carrying case for the Mac.
There was little software available though because we were resellers Apple also included MacPaint and MacWrite. With little to do I amused myself endlessly by grabbing my past coursework from school and creating reports that I could have turned in had I had the Mac when I was still in college. The game changer was just a tad late for my academic career. I ended up getting rid of the Mac a short while later when I landed my first gig wri…

The case of the repaired MacBook case

As I mentioned in yesterday's post my MacBook's palm rest had cracked in an area where this apparently happens quite often. Since the MacBook is only 4 months old (though I have AppleCare just in case) I assumed this would be covered under warranty; it was.
I went to the Apple web site and made an appointment - my local Apple store in Tysons, VA is usually quite busy all the time. I brought it in at noon EST today and, as usual, the place was packed. The Mac Genius I spoke to (Rob) was about as friendly and knowledgeable as you get. He asked a few questions about the MacBook and when I explained to him that I just did a Time Machine backup right before coming in he high-fived me for using Time Machine. Just a real upbeat guy - it was a good customer experience and it was nice to see someone that clearly loved what he does.
When I asked him why this was happening he said that the magnets they use in the lid to keep it closed were too strong and that they created too much pressure…

The case of the cracked MacBook case

I've had my MacBook for a total of 4 months now and have generally loved the little machine, so much so that I switched to Mac completely, dropping Windows and buying a Mac Pro. There has however been one problem that has cropped up recently that is rather frustrating. The front of the MacBook palm rest area has developed a hair-line crack in it.
I treat this machine quite well and am very careful with it so the fact that it cracked after just four months of ownership is pretty disappointing. When I say I treat it well I mean "kid gloves" well. I've never dropped the machine or even handled it roughly. I gently open and close the lid, careful not to let it slam shut. If I take it anywhere it is immediately placed into a snug black neoprene Incase sleeve. Travel means the MacBook is first placed inside the Incase sleeve and thenplaced inside a padded laptop briefcase. Kid gloves.

My oldest daughter's MacBook on the other hand has developed no such crack, even though…

Power off or sleep at night?

I have always simply left my computers on at night, not bothering to power them down since the power management on my machines usually kicked in and turned off the displays. Having spent so many years on the Windows platform with machines that took a tremendously long time to boot up I was simply used to leaving machines on all of the time.  As a software developer—and one that for the last 10 years has created web server applications—I have adopted an always on, server kind of mentality.
There was that accessibility factor—I wanted my machines to be there when I need them, available the second I walk up while I have someone on the phone asking me a question that can only be answered online. Not "Hold on while I pull this up..." and then sitting there for a couple of minutes while the machine fired up. Having built and maintained online service businesses in the past I always needed instant access in the event there was a problem with our servers.
My switch to Mac changed that…

Finding and setting up a UPS for a Mac

With summer weather fast approaching on the east coast I decided it was time to get a new Battery Backup device (aka UPS) for my Mac Pro. This decision was hastened by my experience a couple of days ago when the power dropped during a thunderstorm and my Mac Pro—unable to communicate with my Tripp Lite UPS—dropped from lack of power.
To my surprise I found through comments on my blog that OS X has built in UPS support, though just not with the older Tripp Lite I owned. I also got a few comments from folks on the blog and in e-mails recommending a couple of different Battery Backups and I did some more research on the topic. Though several vendors have products in this space APC seemed to consistently bubble to the top, both in end user ratings on sites like Newegg and with editorial reviews. I had owned APC units in the past and had very good luck with them.

APC even has a great tool for determining which UPS class is best based on your power needs. Armed with this knowledge I decided t…