Tag Archive for apple

Where the Magic Happens

I’ve been using my new desk for about a week now, and I’ve managed to keep from burying it under a ton of extra stuff. I’m rather impressed with myself.

The Workspace Tour

Finally a desk I want to spend time at

Even more important, the desk is very comfortable. My last desk was constricting and had a lot of dead space consumed by the towering corner stand for the monitor, but I didn’t realize just how bad it had gotten until I sat down to work at this desk for the first time. Now I can comfortably read my notes or refer to manuscript pages, slide over a few inches to do paperwork, keep all my extra devices within reach, and not have the desk lamp shining in my face, all without giving up valuable work space.

My office is also my workout space. I lift weights four days a week, and my barbell plate tree is peeking in from the left edge of the photo. This desk leaves more room for maneuvering the barbell around, and it’s not as disastrous if I forget to move my chair before unracking the barbell for presses. Beneath the desk, my printer makes a pretty good—if somewhat expensive—stand for my running shoes.

Moving across my desk, from left to right:

  • Internet stuff and the VoIP phone. Telco-provided routers are cheap-ass garbage. The wireless on this thing dies 3-4 times a week, but I’m too cheap to replace it with a better router. I call the phone The Ratphone: we only keep it around for the Rugrats for emergencies. Far cheaper than a landline we’ll never use.
  • My Lift Big Eat Big lifting straps. These babies have been a life saver the last few months. I messed up my forearm in a judo match and my grip was shot. These let me continue lifting with pulling movements like deadlifts and rows, and as my grip is healing, they allow me to pull more weight so my grip doesn’t become my weakest link.
  • The next silver box is my external backup hard drive. If you have anything of value on your machine, you need one of these. The dead simplicity of Time Machine on the Mac makes backups as simple as plugging it in and forgetting about it. It’s already saved me a ton of time once with a dead hard drive. Between Time Machine, Dropbox and CrashPlan, my data is pretty much disaster-proof.
  • Desk lamp. My overhead light sucks. I’ll replace the fixture someday.
  • Rubz ball. Sounds kinkier than it is. Helps massage out plantar fasciitis. Allegedly.
  • Freedom: Credos from the Road by Sonny Barger. I usually have at least one non-fiction book around. They’re often martial arts-related, but right now it’s motorcycles. This book is a solid read; a good look at freedom by a guy who’s given up a lot of it.
  • The Piccadilly notebook. Not near as solid as a trusty Moleskine, unfortunately, but it gets the job done. And I prefer mechanical pencils, preferably with retractable points that won’t stab me in the leg in a pocket.
  • Android smartphone. My leash and my lifeline.
  • The iMac, my main workhorse. Why a Mac? Because five years on, it still runs like the day I bought it. No fuss, no muss, no crazy maintenance. It just works. I hate Windows, I still like Linux, but I love not having to tinker and tweak all the time.
  • Marv! Throw the switch and he gets laughs off his electrocution.
  • A stack of electronics: MacBook Pro, Samsung Chromebook, and an iPad 2. Not a one belongs to me; they’re primarily for the day job (tech director for a school district). They all come home a lot.
  • A binder from my karate dojo. This one has a lot of notes from a class where we talk about goals and leadership, and a lot of it applies to writing and career goals.
  • My messenger bag. Usually for lugging around a portion of the stack of electronics. Right now it has pens & pencils, ear buds and an iPod nano, a Bluetooth keyboard, and a pencil-edited short story manuscript. Oh, and a giant rubber band for rehabbing my forearm.

My camera is usually around, too, even though I don’t use it near as often as I would like. In contrast, my bookshelves are a lot more cluttered than my desk, and are buried under more than just books and comics.

Workflow is separate from workspace, so I may address that another time. I have several workflows, actually, often depending upon the device and/or the project I’m working with at the moment.

I’m typing this from my second workspace: a small table on my front porch. Laptop and a cigar, though no drink tonight. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ve seen it before. The important thing, of course, is that the work gets done, not where it gets done. All I really need is some kind of keyboard (or, in a pinch, the notebook and pencil) and a quiet spot.

And now that this post is done, I still have some of this cigar left. Off to do some real work.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

TP:WK Now Available in the iBooks Store

As of this evening, The Pack: Winter Kill is now available in the Apple iBooks Store for only $2.99!

And there was much rejoicing.

If you’re an Apple fanatic and you’ve been holding out for an actual iPad edition, wait no longer. Download, read, enjoy, review (please?).

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The King and His Throne

The King and His Throne

Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

Even Conan never had it so good.

Our elementary school is going Apple next year, and we saved a few bucks by ordering the equipment early so it’s already here. I have three 52 Weeks pics to take yet (because I’m a slacker), so I thought it would be cool to work them in.

Now comes the hard part of unboxing all those suckers and setting them up… The first two or three are like Christmas, but after that it gets old quick.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

I Feel So Dirty

I just ordered the iMac for the family.

Mmmm, Kool-Aid.

And someone please tell me why the iPod touch doesn’t have Bluetooth. If you could access the Internet through a cell phone, it would make Safari and Google Maps much more useful. Some of us live in the boonies where public wi-fi is still an urban legend and AT&T coverage sucks.

Not to mention a Bluetooth keyboard would be nice when someone adds some kind of word processing ability via the software SDK due this month.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Getting Her Geek On

The Wife got her first hands-on look at the iPod touch yesterday, and was blown away by how small it is. She’s now excited to be owning one soon, mostly because it will take significantly less space in her purse than the calendar and address book she carries around now. She walked out of the store sporting phantom wood, looking forward to the day she can proudly show off pictures to people who ask (as opposed to bitching that her lazy husband never prints any of them out).

It’s easy for a geek like myself to get excited about new technology, but for non-techies it’s a bit trickier. Despite there being PC’s and laptops in the house throughout our marriage, the Wife has only been using email actively for the last two years. She’s embraced online shopping and Google Maps, and thought my being able to download missed television episodes was “pretty cool.” She only recently started using text messages and fiddling with ringtones on her cell phone, but hardly ever uses the camera. She’s fully embraced DVR technology, but could care less about high-def televisions beyond the fact a flat-screen hanging on the living room wall will free up all kinds of floor space.

In short, the Wife looks at technology as a tool, not a toy. She sees practical uses for the iPod touch, and a new layer of convenience seals the deal. The maps, multi-touch screen, and even the music and video playback are all just a slick bonus. The bulky Palms and other PDA’s have never tripped her trigger, especially with a stylus to lose, easy-to-scratch screens, and clunky interfaces.

I think Apple understands this. Yes, Apple gear is shiny, sleek, and cool. But they definitely have the user in mind, whether we’re talking about hardcore users, newbies, or somebody in between. We all have work to get done, and there are many times we’d like to make that work as simple as possible.

It doesn’t get much easier than iPhoto.

The Wife shares one big gripe with me: price. You get the Cadillac or nothing, something I talked about earlier. This slows adoption to general audiences, but those who can afford said Cadillac couldn’t be happier. We’re discussing putting an iMac in my office so she’ll be able to more easily manage her iPod touch, as well as share photos with family by burning them to DVD with iMovie. She doesn’t have the patience to do the same things in Linux.

In other words, she now sees the value in spending the extra cash, especially now that we’re in a position to afford it.

I may pull the trigger on a new iMac this week, before her phantom wood subsides. It will be interesting to see if an iMac changes her view of computing or not, and whether or not she’ll take advantage of things like the iLife suite.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

"Click! Take a pic!"

The Canon EOS 450D (aka Digital Rebel XSi) has been formally announced, and it shall be mine. (Provided it doesn’t come with Rosie Perez’s voice.*)

I’ve been wanting a digital SLR for a long time. I’ve used an old 35mm camera in the past, and I really enjoyed it compared to using a point-and-shoot digital. Looking through the lens gives you better control of the shot, including the framing and focus. My 6-year-old Canon PowerShot G2 was top of the line in its day, but now with its stuck pixels and its focusing frustrations, it’s time for an upgrade. The nice thing is with the changing technology I can buy a much beefier DSLR for the same price I paid for the G2.

I’ve been watching Digital Photography Review for more information, and they didn’t disappoint: they’ve got a brief hands-on with the 450D and a summary of differences between it and its predecessor, the 400D/Digital Rebel XTi. It looks like Canon’s packing in some solid features, and that’s got me drooling all the more. I read somewhere that it doesn’t ship until April, but if I’ve been waiting over two years to get my hands on a DSLR, I guess I can wait two more months.

Maybe.

The question, then, is will the investment result in better pictures? I sure as hell hope so. If nothing else I’ll have a lot more fun taking pics. Of course, judging by what I saw out of my friend Richard’s Rebel and Speedlite, the softened flash alone is worth the price of admission. I’m sick to death of blown-out faces and subjects’ uncontrollable blinking in my pics.**

The first step to improvement will probably be jumping into the Digital Photography School forums. It looks like there’s a lot of great advice flying around in there, and it’s a lot faster (and cheaper) than trying to take a photography class at a local community college.*** DPS also has a great blog with some cool tips.

With photography more on my brain than ever, I’ve started thinking more about digital workflow. I’ll need some processing capability for RAW no doubt, which means some extra software for the GIMP on my Linux box. Of course, if I do make the Mac switch, that will change things significantly. It’s a little premature to be worried about the Lightroom vs. Aperture debate, so instead I turned my attentions to iPhoto on my MacBook and compared it to digiKam on Linux.

If there’s one app that I think I’d truly miss in Linux, it’s digiKam. Both it and iPhoto perform the same function: importing and organizing your pictures. They both allow easy sorting and importing, and they both support tagging. iPhoto’s presentation is a little bit cleaner, but feature-wise they’re more or less the same.

The key difference is in the back ends, and maybe some of the Mac folks can speak up here.

What I like about digiKam is it drops pics right into the filesystem. If I need to find my pictures in any other application or through a file browser, I know right where to find them because the albums are a mirror of the folder hierarchy. If I change the names of the picture files on import, that name is applied to the file name, replacing vague camera filenames like IMG98939.JPG. The added benefit here is if for any reason I lost the digiKam database with my tags and such in it, my files are untouched. If I have to access the drive remotely (via SSH/SCP, which I do often) or have to recover files with a drive enclosure or similar method, I have a good idea of what I’m looking at.

iPhoto, on the other hand, drops everything into a package of some kind. The files appear to be copied to the filesystem, but it looks like the titles are only part of the iPhoto Library package and database. I did figure out there are both Original and Modified folders inside the iPhoto Library package, and there are folders for year and then Event, but the image filenames are still IMG884737.JPG. Having an automatic backup if I edit a pic (an untouched original and the new, modified file) is not a bad idea, but does this not take up extra space?

How will this affect remote access? If I use SSH to access a Mac, or if I connect via SCP to copy a handful of pictures to a remote computer, am I going to be able to browse — via the shell or a SCP GUI like WinSCP — to my pictures and copy them? Am I going to have to upload pics to Flickr and fetch them from there? Or is there some other Apple sharing method that I may not be aware of?

And most importantly, if my darling rugrats shove my Mac off a table and shatter it, am I going to be able to access my pictures — and recover tags, titles, and other data — if I yank the hard drive and drop it into an enclosure?

Why does iPhoto do it this way? Inquiring minds want to know.

*For those of you who don’t have rugrats, Rosie Perez is the voice of Click the Camera on Go, Diego, Go! And she sings. It’s truly the work of the Devil.

**I have about a tenth as many pics of my wife as I should because she can’t keep her frickin’ eyes open. If I show you a good shot of my wife, chances are it was taken outside in broad daylight in the middle of summer. As a result she’s probably wearing sunglasses, too.

***I tried to take the photography class when I was in college, but the single section offered was always filled within about 6 nanoseconds of the start of registration.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Drinking the Apple Kool-Aid

One of the Apple execs I met yesterday made a good statement about their products: you don’t get it until you try it.

Apple users extol the virtues of their OS all the time. Three of my friends, including (former) die-hard PC user John Roling, have switched to Mac and vow to never go back. A school in Indianapolis employing a 1-to-1 initiative dropped their PC laptops in favor of MacBooks and couldn’t be happier. A Minneapolis-area school switched their 8 buildings from PC to Mac and offered to load Windows for anyone who wanted it; not one teacher requested it.

The rest of us ask “It costs how much?

The MacBook I purchased in December was my first real experience with a Mac, and it’s been growing on me ever since. Wednesday, on the way up to Chicago for our Apple briefing, my superintendent and I stopped off at the New Lenox School District 122. A teacher showed us how she used Macs, and I picked the tech coordinator’s brain about the back end. Both of them couldn’t be any happier with their Macs, and the downside on the back end is far from a deal-breaker.

That night, we hit the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue. I played with an iPod Touch. I fiddled with an iPhone, then browsed the MacBooks, Apple TV, and the iMacs. I chatted with the sales reps, and I damn near came home with an iPod Touch for the Wife.

Yesterday we sat in on the briefing, learned about Apple’s sales and growth, and got a lot of hands-on experience. We created a podcast in Garage Band in minutes (complete with pictures), and fiddled with a lot of the features that would really help in an educational setting, such as the built-in Dictionary and the Speech text-to-speech engine. We even got to see a lot of the thoughtful extras, like Webclips.

We drove home stunned.

Sure, I still have a few beefs. The closed nature of some of their products, for starters (the iPod Touch may be open to more developers soon, but the iPhone will be AT&T-only for some time). The lock-in to iTunes. The lack of true GPS on the iPhone and the Touch (every time someone tried to show me the triangulation feature, it failed or at least failed to build directions off of it). The way the Nike+iPod is restricted to the iPod Nano. And, of course, the price tag.

Yet it’s hard to argue with the value. Like people say, most of this stuff is just cool to use. Apple has put a lot of thought into the layout and design of both the hardware and the software, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the system’s stability. OS X is loaded with features you just don’t get on Windows (or at the very least aren’t as polished in Windows), and the iPhone and Touch interfaces are an order of magnitude better than the Palm’s (there’s no stylus to lose, either).

The Wife scoffed when I told her I almost brought home a Touch for her. She had been looking at one of those credit card-sized photo viewers to show pictures to people, and she carries a calendar and address book in her purse. The Touch would fill all those functions and then some, saving her space in her purse and give her a much better screen and interface to boot. When I got home, I sat her down in front of my MacBook and gave her a tour of the Touch on Apple’s site. Sure enough, she’s impressed and looks forward to getting one in the near future.

Even tonight, despite my irritation in being forced to purchase an iPod Nano if I want to use the Nike+iPod gear when I try the Cool Running 5k plan this Spring, I found myself pricing out both the gadgets and a pair of Nike+ shoes or the Shoe Pouch. All day I’ve been trying to figure out if I should sync the Wife’s iPod Touch with my school MacBook or if I should buy an iMac for the family, and she doesn’t even have the damn thing yet. I yammered about Apple crap all night, and the Wife says I haven’t been this excited about computers in a long time.

Right now, if someone asked me what kind of computer they should buy, I would tell them “If you can afford it, buy a Mac. If you can’t, buy the best machine you can afford and slap Ubuntu on it.”

I feel so dirty.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Advantage in Being Proprietary

My Apple rep, Joe, was in my office as I was packing up at the end of the day. I leaned over to my MacBook, clicked the Apple icon, and clicked Shut Down.

“Did you just shut down your MacBook?” Joe asked. He gave me the same look one might give someone who had just shoved a live viper down the front of their pants.

It dawned on me in that instant how PC laptops had reinforced bad habits. There was no reason to shut down the MacBook because I was going to open it right back up when I got home in ten minutes. Joe had taken his laptop out twice during his visit, and each time opened and closed it without a hitch. I’ve opened and closed m MacBook several times, also without a hitch. In fact, I haven’t shut down the MacBook since, and it’s been eight days.

You can’t get that with Windows or Linux.

Linux has the uptime, but sleep and hibernation are iffy at best. I never got it to run on my old Dell with a few different Linux distros, and I eventually gave up on trying.

On Windows, you may get that kind of uptime out of a server, but on a workstation chances are you’ll have needed to reboot for one reason or another. Sleep and hibernation are at least supported, but when it does work it takes some time to shift into sleep mode and then to wake up again, and even then you may experience problems. For example, we have two shiny new Lenovo ThinkPads at the school, and when they come out of suspend mode they lose their keyboard (it’s especially problematic on a docking station). I have another Dell at work that’s only a few years old, and its suspend gives me fits at times as well. On a Windows machine, don’t even think about interrupting the suspend/wakeup process, because you’ll have problems. Close the lid on accident, realize you forgot something, and open it up again, and you pretty much freeze up the whole system. My wife’s uncle bought a brand new Dell XPS laptop and it took him three power-down and -up cycles before he finally got Windows to work again. Finally, even when it does cooperate, you’re looking at (I’m guesstimating based on previous experience) between 10 and 20 seconds before the system is actually usable.

On this MacBook, meanwhile, opening and closing the lid has been flawless, and damn near instantaneous. Close the lid and it’s suspended. Open it and it’s up and running in about a second. Count the time it takes to reassociate with a wireless network and you’re looking at 2-3 seconds, tops. But that’s okay, because you can start fiddling with apps. I had to write an email this morning, so I sat down and opened the lid. By the time my finger hit the touchpad, the MacBook was ready for me.

I wondered how that could be. Are Apple developers just that much better than Windows or Linux developers, or is there some advantage they have? It occurred to me that being proprietary may be all the advantage they need.

Whether you’re talking Windows or Linux, there are a plethora of machines they can be installed on with a wide-ranging set of features and hardware, each of which require their own drivers. It’s further compounded by the manufacturers handling different features in different ways.

In the Windows world, we have a closed-closed relationship. The hardware manufacturers are all protecting their hardware and software, and Windows is protecting their operating system. Windows only shares the Application Programmer’s Interface (API) with the hardware people, essentially telling them “this is how you talk to Windows.” If there are bugs and problems, it’s on the hardware manufacturer to figure it out, and the end users have to sit and hope the two sides can work things out.

In the Linux world, we have a closed-open relationship. Few hardware manufacturers are writing Linux drivers, but the Linux programmers have the advantage of full access to the Linux kernel and its drivers. They have a better chance of figuring things out, but the user still either has to code up a solution himself or hope a geek out there has the same problems and publishes a driver. The good news is this has drastically improved over the past few years with more companies like Canonical getting into the game, and partnerships between companies like Canonical and Dell are a big help, but there’s still a little ways to go.

The Apple guys, meanwhile, know exactly what the hardware is going to be. Their engineers and programmers all talk to one another and share information, so by the time the end user gets his hands on the product, everything Just Works. (Generally. I realize Macs are not 100% bulletproof.)

The advantage goes to Apple. By the same token, this is probably why the Xbox works so much better than Windows, despite their both being Microsoft products. The Xbox crew knows exactly what’s in the hardware and how to talk to it, so the Xbox operating system is rock solid. (Again, generally speaking.)

Which leads to the next problem: cost. I think I’ll save that rant for another post, though.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Where Are the Vista Apologists?

Brooding

Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

I’ve become more and more impressed with the MacBook I’ve been evaluating. Between reader comments and the things an Apple rep has showed me, I’m starting to really see the appeal of OS X.

The much-touted ease of use is really there. With no more instruction than “click here and here,” my son has fallen in love with PhotoBooth. The picture above is one of many he took while playing around, and he often asks me if he can play with the MacBook. I’m looking forward to showing him the Comic Life demo I downloaded.

I’ll be talking more about my MacBook experiences in the future, but for now I have to wonder, where are the Vista apologists?

I write a single post about my Mac experiences, and I’m swamped with comments and traffic spikes. There was no zealotry, just helpful advice and encouraging words. Meanwhile I’ve slagged Windows, especially Vista, several times, and there’s hardly a peep from my readership.

I’m on an email list for Illinois technology educators that has hundreds of members, and there’s a lot of talk about Vista headaches ranging from poor printer and hardware support to it being a massive resource hog. There are a few people who claim to like it, but they’re more interested in some of the administrative or security tools than anything a user might get excited about. Or, if they do like Vista in general, they have either turned off several features or they just accept the system’s quirks.

I read a column recently (I wish I could find it) that made a great point: Mac users love their systems. Windows users, meanwhile, just grit their teeth and reboot. This is why guys like John Roling, a former Windows power user, suddenly become Mac enthusiasts. This is why guys like me start exploring other options like Linux, and are willing to at least entertain the notion of purchasing a Mac.

This is why Dell and IBM are forced to offer XP as an option on their systems, and Vista was only installed on 39% of all PCs sold last year. This is why Best Buy is doubling the number of stores stocking Mac products this month.

The only thing the Windows, Mac and Linux camps can agree on is DRM and proprietary multimedia formats suck.

In the meantime, I ask again, where are the Vista apologists? If you’re out there, speak up!

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

2007: Year in Review

If someone were to ask me how this year went, my first reaction would be to call it a write-off. Then I got to thinking about it, and it actually hasn’t been so bad after all. Let’s look back, shall we?

I started the year by selling the German rights to Deadliest of the Species to publisher Otherworld Verlag. The book was pitched to retailers this month, and it will see publication early next year under the title Das Tödliche Geschlecht. I followed that up over the summer with another book sale which I’m still asked to keep under my hat.

Restore from Backup, my novella collaboration with JF Gonzalez, was released from Bad Moon Books. The hardcovers sold out on preorder, but you can still get copies of the trade paperback.

Moonstone Books published The Phantom Chronicles, a prose anthology of Phantom tales including my short story “The Servants of Set”. Moonstone is also the publisher of my comic book Werewolves: Call of the Wild.

I received word today that In Delirium II is shipping. This anthology includes a reprint of “Crazy for You” by myself and Brian Keene. This story previously appeared in Crime Spree. The book doesn’t appear to be listed on the Horror Mall yet, but I imagine it will be up for order soon.

Finally, I attended two comic cons — one large and one small — and did signings at two comic shops. I sold enough comics to pay for the trip at the small comic con, and I was well satisfied with the results of the large con and the signings. I also had fun, and probably picked up a few new fans to boot.

I’d like to have accomplished more, of course, but I don’t feel I should be complaining.

In personal news, I joined the Academy of Okinawan Karate in March and started studying Shuri-ryu, a style of karate. I climbed the ranks from white belt through yellow and to blue belt, and I’ve learned a lot of cool things. Between classes and home exercise, I’ve managed to lose 30 pounds and I feel better than I have in years. I’d have to say that’s the best accomplishment of the year. My class and workout schedule may have put a dent in my writing productivity, but I feel like my health improvements will keep me writing for years to come.

I joined an active Flickr photo group called 52 Weeks, where users post a picture a week for a year. I did fine for a while, but the last few months I’ve fallen way behind. I would like to have posted an honest week 1 and week 52 pic right now, but it’ll have to be off a little bit. You can, however, see my contributions so far right here.

Finally, I expanded my computing horizons by picking up a MacBook at work. I’m sure I’ll be talking more about it in the future (and I’m writing this post on it now), but this gets me closer to being a triple threat in desktop computing.

There are a few things I wish I’d accomplished or wish I’d done better, but hey, that’s what next year is for. Overall, I’m content to call 2007 a win.

Onward and upward.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

MacBook: First Impressions

It’s here!

Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.


The MacBook arrived today. I’m tapping out this blog post on it right now, in fact.

I have to give credit to Apple, they certainly know how to handle product presentation. White isn’t my first color choice, but though it pervades everything from the packaging to the laptop itself, it gives the product a very sharp, clean, almost futuristic appearance. The laptop was wrapped in a protective sleeve and laid out in a nest of Styrofoam eggshells, and the extra parts and little bundle of manuals and CD’s were waiting patiently beneath it.

When you open a new Dell or Lenovo, meanwhile, you get some cardboard boxes and plastic bags. The accessories rattle around the box and you end up with six pounds of inserts littering the floor when you’re done unpacking everything.

Those are little things, certainly, but they show Apple’s at least trying to provide a little bang for the buck. And it’s pretty cool they included a nice cleaning cloth with it, because the glossy chassis is prone to fingerprints.

The drooling didn’t last long. I’m a function over form guy so I pulled her out and opened her up. I was surprised, at first, by the lack of a latch. Instead, Apple’s got a nifty magnet that holds the lid shut. Nothing to protrude and snag or break, and no puzzle to figure out. It complements the magnetic power connection, which I think is nothing short of brilliant. In fact, the power supply magnet already came in handy twice: first the Squirt stepped on it while climbing on me on the couch, and then I turned to one side and the cord snagged on a table corner. A regular connector would probably have survived the latter, but the former may well have resulted in my ordering a new power supply.

Three things surprised me when I opened the lid: the buttons, the lid hinges, and the touchpad. The buttons are larger and spaced farther apart than I expected for a 13″ laptop, and they’re very comfortable and easy to type on. The lack of extraneous media controls was also nice, as I never use any of that crap anyway. I was still leery of the single mouse button at this point, but I felt the huge trackpad would come in handy. I find it kind of amusing the enter key is labeled both “enter” and “return”; it makes me want to hunt for the “any” key. I see there’s also a nice “alt” label on the option key for us PC folk, and then of course there’s the squiggly box thing us PC folk tend to sneer at. The light on the caps lock key is a nice touch, though I just now realized there’s no num lock or faux number pad. I can’t imagine I’ll miss it as I never used it anyway, but it’s suddenly weird not seeing it there. I don’t see other PC standbys like scroll lock, print sreen, or pause/break, either. I never use scroll lock and print screen and pause/break are once in a blue moon, so I guess it makes sense for Apple to ditch the clutter. Finally, the hinge mount gives the user an extra inch or so of distance from the screen, making me feel at least a little less like I’m sitting too close to the screen. It also frees up some chassis real estate for the power button, which in turn probably gives the user a little more room for the touchpad and on the palm rests.

This is the entry-level MacBook, though we did get it bumped up to 2GB of RAM. However, even at entry level it’s got the built-in iSight camera, 2 USB ports, a Firewire port, an Ethernet port, a VGA output (albeit with a proprietary Mac connector — our rep tossed in an adapter), headphone and (I assume) line-in jacks, wireless, and Bluetooth. I’ve got the DVD player/CD burner combo, and it’s the Apple self-loading style rather than the pop-out drawer you get on PC laptops. And, of course, I can’t forget the light-up Apple on the lid. All told, I have to agree with John and others that for the specs and hardware it’s at least comparable to most PC laptops at the same price. I do wonder if the lack of a PC card slot will be a problem for some users, but it won’t be for me.

Time to take a look at the real guts, OS X. The rep gave me the option of Tiger (10.4) or Leopard (10.5), and I told him I want the latest and greatest. Leopard started with a welcome movie and then started asking me the standard account-setup questions. The first notable point here was it used the iSight camera to take a picture of me for my account button. Little more than glitz, of course, but kind of cool. The Midget and I mugged for it together, and I later saw that same picture/avatar appear in Mail and iChat.

The second notable point was the wireless setup. My WAP at work filters by MAC address, and there’s no sign of the MAC address on the laptop itself (most manufacturers put it on the bottom). Apple ditched all of the extraneous labels you find beneath a PC laptop, thus leaving me on my own. My options were to select another network (like Ethernet or Bluetooth) or tell it I don’t connect to a network. I selected the no network option so I can see how tough it would be to get this sucker online later.

Moments later I was up and running. First task? The wireless. I found a wireless icon on the desktop, and it showed me it had found my WAP. Another click into Advanced and voilá, there was my MAC address. I half wondered if “AirPort Address” actually referred to my access point, but I guess Apple calls both the cards and the access points AirPort devices. No big deal, because the moment I keyed it into my WAP I was surfing the Net in Safari.

I watched a few YouTube videos and found I had Flash support out of the box, no plug-ins required. I also had PDF support. Sound is decent, but hey, it’s a 13″ laptop. I still can’t find the speakers, but it almost sounds like they’re behind the display. The remote control for Front Row (think Media Center, Windows people) works like a champ and Front Row itself is easy to get around in. I’ll probably put it through its paces at another time. I then surfed to Apple Trailers and watched a couple. 1080p videos were bigger than my screen, but let me tell you, 720p on this baby was nothing short of gorgeous. I aimed the screen at the Wife across the room, and she was similarly impressed by its clarity. It also played the HD video and the audio with no sign of chop. Similarly impressive was the machine claims it will get over four hours out of the battery. I’ll test that another time, but if it’s true I’m going to need to change my pants.

While Safari is kind of cool, I did find out the hard way that it doesn’t cooperate with WordPress, which powers my blog. A little digging and I found out I was screwed because Safari uses the Gecko rendering engine rather than the Mozilla or even IE engines. No matter, I wanted Firefox so I could continue using Foxmarks if nothing else.

Getting up to that point was where I did my initial wrestling with the differences between Macs and PC’s. The delete key debate question did prove invalid, but I do see a few other areas of adjustment. And I best start by saying none of these are showstoppers, they’re just the Mac way of doing things.

First, copying and pasting are accomplished with Command-C and Command-V, respectively. I found this out by browsing the Edit menu and looking at the shortcut keys. Here’s where I missed having a right mouse button, and I’ll probably fix it with a three-button USB mouse. Yes, I realize I can also copy with Control-Click, but if I’m going to be clicking an extra button I may as well use Command-C. I’ll further admit I’m spoiled by Linux’s automatic copying of highlighted text to the clipboard. Highlighting and then middle clicking just plain rocks.

Second we have the menu and window placement. In the Windows world, almost every app runs in its own window and gets its own menu. In the Mac world, the menu across the top of the screen changes to become the menu for whatever app you’re actively using. This is not a problem. What I do miss already is a taskbar, or at least an easy way to access running apps. Yes, I realize this is what Expose is for, and it is very pretty, but it’d be able to get a listing via the mouse. I’d even be happy if it was in a stack like the Documents and Downloads buttons on the Dock (and if there’s a way to accomplish this, do feel free to leave me a comment). I’m going to have to get used to this quick, because chasing windows around was a pain.

Next we have the Dock itself. I don’t really have a comment here, other than I guess it’s pretty snazzy. It’s just a different way of doing things, and I don’t feel I have a preference for it over a Start button setup. I played with it in the System Preferences and whipped it into what I suppose is a reasonably functional shape.

Which leads me to System Preferences, which is the same as the Control Panel for Windows folks. Easy to browse and navigate, with all that you need right there. Much better than Microsoft’s goofy category view, and a hair more straightforward even than the classic view.

This is also where I tweaked mouse behavior. Out of the box, I couldn’t tap the touchpad to click icons or buttons or sweep a finger across it to scroll within windows. That became the first thing I had to fix after the networking. There wasn’t much I could do about the single button, but I did discover I could scroll both horizontally and vertically simply by using two fingers to do the sweep.

I may have to tweak the touchpad’s sensitivity a bit, but I’m impressed by two-finger scrolling. In Windows, maybe you get scroll space along the side and/or bottom of the touchpad. In Linux, it will reserve the side and/or bottom of the touchpad for scroll space even if the hardware wasn’t set up for it. This can become a nuisance because they both often misinterpret what you’re trying to do when your finger accidentally strays into these spaces, and you also get accidental clicks rather than scrolls. The Mac is not prone to this because it knows you’ve got two fingers on the pad and that you intend to scroll, not click. I also didn’t have the problem where the mouse stops on videos (or worse, Flash-based banner ads); it scrolled right on through them, even if I started right on top of them. Kudos, Apple!

I set up a Mail account and connected it to my server at work. This was a fairly straightforward process, and I was presented with my email from work. It dutifully downloaded my Inbox first, then politely went about downloading the rest of my mail in the background so I could get to work right away. Rockin’.

After that I set up iChat. Very straightforward, nothing remarkable. I opened the Address Book, iCal, iPhoto, and iMovie, but I didn’t play with them much. I’ll have to play with them another day, and I especially want to get my hands dirty with iPhoto.

The last thing I tackled, and the last thing I’ll cover in this post, is software installation. I downloaded Thunderbird to manage my home email and to see how it would look on a Mac, and I also snagged Firefox and a FTP/SCP client called Cyberduck. All three came in the .dmg disk image format. There was just one problem with that:

I had no idea how to handle the damned things.

I haven’t felt this helpless behind a keyboard in years. I expected the system would lead me through the install process when I clicked the files, but not so. Instead I got a window with a big application icon in it. I clicked the little oval in the upper right corner of the window border and got a bigger window with some folders and such on the left. I soon figured out I was inside the .dmg file, but still wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing with them.

Obviously this was just a fundamental lack of understanding of the Mac world, so I hit Mozilla’s site. Unfortunately they offered no hints. Then I hit Cyberduck’s site, thinking they’d have an install guide. Nope. Google came to the rescue. After a few searches, I learned I needed to copy the big icon — which was the application itself — to the Applications folder. I did so and then had a working program.

Advantage one of doing it this way? No registry.

Let me say that again: no expletive deleted registry! In fact, no extra files, period. Nice. It’s tough to gauge it against Windows because I can install exe’s in my sleep, but I suppose a newcomer with a little guidance may find it more convenient because they can drop it wherever they want rather than blindly accepting Windows defaults.

On the downside, I think I prefer Synaptic. You don’t have to surf anywhere to find an app, it takes care of all the installation for you and you return to the same place for updates. It’s also more intuitive to click “Add/Remove Software” and get a full software catalog than to download a file that you first have to find on the system and then have to open and copy its contents to somewhere else. Cyberduck threw me a little because it had several files and olders within the image, not just the application, and I’m going to have to learn to manage the Dock before it gets too bloated with installed applications.

As I said above, none of these are showstoppers, they’re just a matter of learning. I only mention them as comparisons to the PC world and so you can point and laugh at the dummy with the shiny white laptop.

I’ll continue to fiddle around and I will soon attempt some work-related tasks for both the day job and the writing. OpenOffice.org is definitely in my future (or at least NeoOffice, anyway), I’ll be installing some printers, connecting to Active Directory, and of course I’ll fiddle with the iLife apps and the Unix guts of the system.

In the end, I like this sucker. I can’t say I want to run out and by my own, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from purchasing one. In fact, I feel more confident than ever in saying a person can sit down in front of any machine and quickly become productive. I’ve spent more time writing up this post and watching videos than I have trying to figure out how to do something. If you can surf with IE or Firefox, you can surf with Safari. If you can set up mail accounts in Outlook Express or Thunderbird, you can set up Mail. And finally, even if the controls throw you for a loop, you’ll get used to them in no time.

It will be fun to find out if the users I support feel the same way.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Vista Crawls

I didn’t intend this to be tech day on the blog, but now I’ve found this CNet article talking about how Windows XP is a lot faster than Windows Vista. My first reaction was “tell me something I don’t know.”

While I’m not a big fan of Windows XP, I do admit it’s the best system Microsoft has put out. Vista just doesn’t impress me at all, because in my eyes if you’ve got a current machine, whatever software you put on it should hum. On a brand new ThinkPad I purchased, Vista was very pokey, even with the eye candy turned off.

In the article, one of their VP’s says:

“Frankly, the world wasn’t 100 percent ready for Windows Vista.”

Ah, yes. When Linux has headaches, it’s not ready for the desktop. When Vista has delays, canceled features, etc., it’s the rest of the world that’s not ready. Nice.

When co-workers and parents come to me asking to buy a computer, about half of them are asking me where they can buy a machine with XP on it. They’re not asking me what I think of Vista, or if they should upgrade, they’ve already heard that it’s no good, or that they should wait until Service Pack 1 comes out. Two parents have asked me if they felt their kids could still get college work done on a Mac (and I said “Of course!”, of course).

There’s a few people who tell me how great Vista’s new features are, but how many of those apply to Joe End User? Very few. There’s some great stuff in there for network admins and for securing Vista in a large network, but not a lot that the kid down the street surfing the Internet and typing up essays is going to take advantage of. I really hope Microsoft is getting the message on this one, and that the next operating system they claim they’re working on solves a lot of these problems.

Until then, people are going to be paying more and more attention to the Apple Switch ads and the similar Linux ads. (I find it all the more interesting these Switch spoof ads are run by Novell, who partnered with Microsoft for greater Linux interoperability.)

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.