2007-01-17

Long time, no post

It's been a while since I've posted here, so I thought I'd catch up everything that's happened before I get myself back into the swing of posting random nonsense.

Chronos is running smoothly with its new PSU, no issues since the replacement, save for some bizarre incompatibility between my D-Link USB 802.11b/g+ WiFi adapater and the uTorrent BitTorrent client. I have no idea how they could even manage to be incompatible, but somehow, if I run uTorrent, after a few minutes Windows will lose my wireless, and I have to unplug and replug the USB adapter for it to get back on. This will let the connection stay up for another few minutes before the cycle repeats itself. It only happens when uTorrent is open; if I get disconnected, reseat the USB adapter, and close uTorrent, I can stay connected for days on end. I don't get it.

Also, I bought a MacBook (13" widescreen, 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, 1GB DDR-667, 80GB HD, SuperDrive), and I love the thing to death. The old Dell Latitude D600 was a POS from the day I got it, and I rarely used it (it's a work machine - I didn't actually buy a $2k laptop and never use it.) The MacBook, on the other hand, has more CPU power than my desktop, it's extremely portable due to its size and weight, and the power adapter is far more portable than any laptop charger I've ever seen. The screen quality is fantastic, and I'm actually starting to get back into the swing of MacOS.

Five or so years ago, I had never used a PC. I used an Apple //c when I was five, started programming it in BASIC and assembly when I was 7, got a Mac SE at 10, a Mac Quadra 605 at 14, and a PowerMac G3 (Blue & White) at 16. Then I got a job doing tech support for an ISP, and had to get a Windows-based computer to be able to keep up with the issues experienced by our majority-Windows customers. So, at 19, I bought my first PC, and built it myself from parts, just to have the experience. I sold my last remaining Mac when I was 21, and now I'm nearing my 24th birthday, and I have a Mac again.

Why did I ditch the Mac in the first place? Mac OS X. I've used every Mac OS from System 4 on the IIgs to System 6 on the SE to System 7 on the Quadra to MacOS 8, 9, and eventually X on the G3. It kept getting better and better; every update was faster, easier to use, more feature-full than the last. With MacOS 9.1.2 my system was more responsive than it had ever been.

Then Mac 9.2 came out, designed to ease the migration to MacOS X, laying the groundwork for a whole new Mac OS. I tried the OS X public beta; it was dirt-slow, a total memory hog, and it eventually hosed my hard drive - but hey, it was a beta. I used 10.0 final, it was nearly as bad; 10.1 was a slight improvement, but I never got over how much the interface had changed; I still think Mac 9.1 was the easiest to use, and I think at this point Mac has come down to be roughly on-par with Windows in terms of intuitiveness; a significant fall from grace.

Now I'm using a Mac again, and it's taking some adustment, but it's not as bad as I remember it. Some of the more annoying issues have been fixed; others I suppose just don't bother me as much any more because it's been a very, very long time since I was used to the smooth effortlessness of Mac OS of old. Whatever the root, I'm taking a liking to this new OS.

Expose, which allows you to quickly view all open windows, all windows in the current application, or your desktop, with the push of a button, is very nice. Rather than icons representing each window, when you hit the button, the windows slide and shrink and move around so that you can see them all on-screen at once; these zoomed-out windows are still the real deal, however, and still update while you're looking at them in their miniature form; progress bars still update, and so on.

The Dashboard is handy as well; I'm using iStat Pro to keep an eye on CPU, memory, disk, and network use directly from the dash, as well as Sing that iTune, which automatically looks up the lyrics for whatever track is currently playing in iTunes (I can't help it, I'm a compulsive sing-along-er.)

I haven't used the iLife kit much (iMovie HD, iDVD, iPhoto, etc.), though I have tinkered briefly in GarageBand. Yet again, I find myself using iTunes even though it's a desperately sub-par product; it's become such a juggernaut that few are willing to attempt to compete - on Windows you're up against WMP, iTunes and WinAmp, not an easy fight to fight - and on MacOS, well, iTunes has a pretty significant stranglehold. There are a couple of alternatives, but nothing suitable. So iTunes remains my photo app. It also includes an app called PhotoBooth that uses the built-in webcam to let you take photos - I use it for my gtalk buddy icon, which I sign onto using iChat (works just fine, although it does require that I use a seperate app for gmail notifications - luckily Google has released a full-featured email and calendar notification pack for Mac that works extremely well for me.)

I've also got a Wireless Mighty Mouse, which works very well, aside from a small issue with the connection; it seems if I turn off the mouse, then later turn it back on (as I am likely to do quite often, what with it being a laptop - sometimes I have the room to use the mouse, sometimes I have to use the trackpad), it'll pair automagically, but it won't connect, even though the mouse as marked as a "favorite device"; every time I have to go into the Bluetooth panel and force it to connect by going through the entire pairing/connecting process again. A minor nuisance, but highly irritating when you want to just pull out the laptop and the mouse and get to work.

The Unix side of MacOS is just as one would expect; so far, the main difference between the Darwin base and any other *nix system I've used is the directory structure and a couple of missing apps, which I've since been able to easily install by compiling from source. I managed to install AMP (apache/mysql/php) with little difficulty, aside from some confusion which arose due to the apache 1.3 installation that MacOS comes with, which I didn't realise was there until it had already become a problem.

I've been able to use Automator to create a simple script which runs a bash script; I'm already using this on a daily basis, as it lets me put an item in a global menu to quickly execute a shell script. This is extremely handy; I only wish that, like under *nix windowing environments, I could run any file marked executable just by double-clicking it on the desktop. C'est la vie, maybe a future version will feature this; in the meantime, it's a relatively simple workaround to create an Automator workflow or AppleScript to trigger a shell script to run.

I'm already running jEdit (which has a very solid native Mac port), NetBeans (again, very solid Mac support), NeoOffice (a Cocoa port of OpenOffice.org; so far so good, though I've used it very little as of yet), MySQL GUI Tools (same functionality as it has on windows/*nix - but with a better interface!), FireFox (of course - I didn't use IE, and I'm no more enamored with Safari), I've got a BT client (Azureus - I don't like it, but it works, and I haven't had time to try out Transmission, which I've also installed), a Subversion client (ZigVersion, because I can't get svnX to work at all - it hangs as soon as I try to connect to my server), and of course the JRE. I still need to find a way to sync my Q to the MacBook, but that's not a huge priority for me right now.

I've loaded the thing with a sampling of my movie & music collection from Chronos (the full collection is about 60G, a bit much for the 80G disk the MacBook came with), and I find the display to be perfect for movie-viewing. The speakers are lame, but that's to be expected with a laptop; I just use the earbuds that came with my iPod, and I've got a pair of much better quality earbuds coming in the mail (look for a review shortly!)

All in all, the switch back to the Mac has been a positive experience so far; I've always appreciated Apple's attention to detail, and they haven't failed me with the MacBook itself (from a hardware standpoint), though I still find some shortcomings with MacOS as a whole. I suppose only time will tell how effective it is; if I run into critical usability or compatibility problems, you can be sure you'll see it mentioned here.

I've also upgraded from my old Palm Treo 650 to a snazzy new Motorola Q, on Verizon service. Aside from the fact that Verizon's service beats the pants off of Sprints (at least across the Atlanta area, western North & South Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and western Virginia), the Q itself is far and away the better phone. Gone is the irritating touchscreen and easily-lost stylus; here is your clickable scroll wheel (thank god). Also, much to my surprise, Windows Mobile 5 is more stable, more responsive, easier to use, and has more and better software available than PalmOS ever did, in my experience. I've already got a pocket NES emulator running on the Q, with a mini-SD card loaded with every NES game ever made; for the cost of an SD card I now have over nine hundred games available on the go, compared to the $10 - $20 per game you pay to download a game from your provider (Sprint or Verizon, Q or Treo, the download prices seem about the same.)

The Q has better call quality (both due to improved reception, and improved mic & speaker), better speakerphone quality, better bluetooth support, and built-in voice-dialing and WAV/MP3 ringtone support (both of which were shockinly missing from the Treo.) Also, while the monthly service through Verizon is slightly more expensive than my service through Sprint was, the Q itself was only $100 with 2-year, while the Treo 650 was $300 with 2-year. I also thoroughly appreciate the Q's smaller, lighter form-factor; compared to the Treo, I barely notice it hanging on my belt, and I find it much easier to handle, particularly due to its thinner depth.

That's all from me for now - hopefully you'll be reading news of the fruits of a couple of new projects here in the near future, but until then, it'll be more mindless ramblings from me!
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