Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for the ‘mac’ Category

My Steve Jobs memories

Posted by shannonclark on August 25, 2011

My Steve Jobs memoriesAs a kid I learned to program on Comodore64’s and on the Osborne “luggable” my father had from his work. My mom was a mainframe programmer but we were relatively early adopters of computers – however as we didn’t have a TV we didn’t get an Atari or other home computer for a while. But I did use Apple’s at various schools and learned to program them.In the 1980’s my parents bought one of the very first Mac’s, a Mac512 which we later upgraded to a MacPlus with a whole 1mb of memory! (they still have this – likely now it is a collectible).

In 1991 as I prepared for my first year of college I bought my first computer of my own – it wasn’t a Mac, nor was it a Windows PC, I bought a used NeXT cube. The bit over $6000 I spent on that NeXT was probably among the best purchases I ever made in my life – more than college, more then my first condo. Okay not more than a certain ring I just bought but other than that, one of the most long lasting purchases of my life – as the skills I learned connecting that NeXT to the Internet have lasted to this day.

In 1991 from my college dorm room which included wired Internet access I had a static IP address and had nearly 1000 users from around the globe playing the MuCK which I ran for some friends on the NeXT (named Collatz). While I wasn’t ever a highly active player of the MuCK I helped to run that experience and the ongoing experience of the NeXT OS as an interface to the Internet in 1991 has shaped me and my technical interests to this day.

I purchased the NeXT largely because it came bundled with Mathematica (I thought I was going to be a Math or Physics major and had been an avid Mathematica user while working at Argonne National Lab). There are still UI and software elements of the NeXT which I think still would be innovative today – the multi-dimensional spreadsheet for the NeXT OS was really impressive and the mail included the ability to link photos to addresses (something only gradually available today via add-ons such as Rapportive to Gmail though Google is also making some strides to add this – but it still is far from standard).

A few years into to college, however, i sold my NeXT and bought my first laptop, which wasn’t a Mac but a PC. That served me well as a writing tool but less well as a technology tool and the various PCs I owned in the 1990’s and early 2000’s weren’t much better.

Finally fed up with Windows I switched to first an iMac for my home computer a few years ago and then added the MacBook Pro I’m writing on at the moment. Earlier this year my fiancee and I each bought an iPad and I’ve had an iPhone since the first version.

I’m still not a full power user of the latest MacOS (Lion) and I don’t do a lot of coding these days (though I did hack up an iPad app a while back and may try my hand at that again later this fall) but I’m appreciative of the power of the Mac platform and the reinvigorated Apple company that is Steve Job’s legacy.
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Posted in geeks, internet, mac, personal | Leave a Comment »

Seven questions/ideas for Ping – Apple’s new music social network

Posted by shannonclark on September 2, 2010

Here is a post I sent to the Pho-List, a semi-private mailing list for people in/interested in the digital music space. As Ping & Apple is of wider interest than just industry types I am posting my seven questions/ideas here on my blog. I welcome your feedback, answers or further suggestions.

I think the really interesting stuff will be when we learn whether additional parties will be able to participate in Ping or on the Apple TV.

A few examples to illustrate what I mean.

1) will ticket services that are not Livenation/ticketmaster be able to work with Ping? If so musicians and fans win. If not Ping will lack smaller venues  and any major shows not at Livenation venues.

2) will services such as the BBC’s iPlayer (which they have made some announcements about offering outside of the UK – and slight hints that even non-UK citizens might have a means of paying for access) or similar streaming services from other global networks integrate with the Apple TV? As a US based fan of Doctor Who if this allowed me to legally view HD Doctor Who (and other BBC series) I would buy the Apple TV & pay a monthly subscription in a heartbeat. (BBC America isn’t available in HD on Comcast here in SF)

3) Will artists have a means of offering full streams of select tracks or full videos on their Ping pages as they already do on MySpace Music and on their own websites.

4) a Facebook friends invite feature was announced for Ping but will this integration be deeper? (ie linking/using music, tv and film “likes” on Facebook; connecting a facebook fan page to the musician’s ping profile etc) and will other networks also be connected to (for example will there be a myspace integration)

5) will there be an API to allow developers to build tools to help musicians and/or labels manage their Ping presence? Will this allow for cross promotion of more than just livenation venue event tickets? For example – merch, physical music such as LP’s, fan clubs, kickstarter like pre-sale offers for new works, iPhone/iPad applications etc. Will an artist be able to cross-promote for example linking to TV series or films using the artists work (or in some cases where the artist is acting)

6) how well integrated will individual artists and the group(s) they perform with be on Ping? I don’t know if there is an easy answer but countless artists across all genres perform with different groups – a fan of the artist or one group should, you would think, have an  easy way to discover these other groups.

7) will Ping and iTunes more broadly better support musical genres currently poorly represented on iTunes. Personally I’m thinking about Opera and a classical music – genres where iTunes has limited offerings. But there is a wider global array of genres and regions where iTunes (at least in the US) carries few artists.

Posted in internet, iTunes, mac, music, networks | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What do you actually use your computers to do?

Posted by shannonclark on February 1, 2010

Last night I wrote about why I think the iPad will be a great device for content creation – and included a number of potential million dollar plus ideas.

Today as I read a bunch of blogs and articles covering the iPad I am struck by how many people who are objecting to the iPad or predicting that it will fail seem to have some idea of computer usage which differs, dramatically so, from how I have used my computers for the past decade and very much from how I use my computers today.

The image that people have of “using” a computer seems to involve lots of overlapping processes, deep customization of the system and a variety of applications running which all push the limits of the system.

My reality?

I usually have one application running on my computers – a browser. On my tablet I currently use Google Chrome as my primary browser (not least of which because it doesn’t have lots of extensions and thus loads quickly and smoothly).

Recently I have been using Mindjet’s MindManager (I have the old 7.0 version installed here) which I enjoy but really only barely use, mostly I use it to capture all my various ongoing projects, to-do lists and the like (in short as my electronic GTD system).

Occasionally I use an IM application, mostly Google gchat – which I could just about as easily just use from within the browser, though I do appreciate the occasional notifications that pop up about new messages in my primary inbox. Though since I have at least three main email addresses and only get notifications for one email address and then only for my inbox and not for the many important messages I get but autofilter into various labels, the utility of this notification service is minimal at best.

And when I sync my iPod and iPhone I fire up iTunes – but since my library is vastly larger than my laptop’s HD, doing so requires that I attach an external HD to my system for the syncing to work. I use a wide array of complex smart playlists to result in every device I own and sync getting exactly the content I want to reside on that particular device – which always includes the latest podcasts I have downloaded as well as any other new content I have recently added to my iTunes library (so if I buy new content, rip a CD or download legal digital content it will get onto my music player automatically and be added to the primary playlists I use to select what to listen to during my walks, waits for buses and other podcast listening opportunities during the day.

But that is about all the applications i use on a regular basis. Sure, I have some compilers installed on my laptop, the full MSFT Office suite and much more but the reality is that I almost never need to run any of these applications. And when I do other than looking up information in my browser from time to time, I rarely need to have multiple applications open at the same time – for one my screen resolution though good for a laptop is still so low that I almost always run every app I use in full window mode.

Perhaps I am missing something major about how people use their computers today – some suite of applications that everyone other than me uses – but I don’t think this is the case.

A few possibilities.

  1. Photo & Video editing. My digital camera died a few months ago and I have yet to replace it (need a camera but don’t have the spare funds to buy one at the moment) so I don’t do a lot of photo and no video editing. But there are some great online alternatives to applications such as Photoshop. Aviary is my personal favorite – they offer a wide range of image and vector art online editing tools along with even some music editing tools. Adobe even offers an iPhone application for Photo editing (limited but
  2. Games. I don’t have powerful enough video cards in either of my computers to do much gaming (definitely not in my tablet, my iMac could handle a bit more though there are far fewer MacOS games to select amongst). But PC gaming is and likely will remain a big deal. But so too is gaming on the iPhone and in the future on the iPad and I suspect very rapidly the iPad will attract games that may be better in many ways (or at least very uniquely different) than games not just on PC’s but even against games on any of the major game console systems. I predict that the iPad will be a gaming platform as big, perhaps bigger, than the current game consoles (not their portable game systems which the iPhone already is a potent competitor to but also the main game consoles – Wii, Playstation3 and Xbox360)
  3. Personal Finance. Here in the US we have started to shift into preparing for Tax season shortly. I know in the past many years I have used TurboTax in some form to help prepare my taxes and that many friends run software such as Quickbooks for their family finances or small business finances. That said, there is a reason why Intuit bought Mint last year. Finance software including tax preparation and small (and large) business bookkeeping is rapidly moving from local computers to web/cloud delivered products.
  4. Customized “run the business” applications. These vary by business but think the Point of Sale systems in a retail shop or restaurant. Even here, however, with the rise of platforms such as Square there are many opportunities for many retail transactions to move to the cloud & mobile applications.

So what uses of your personal or business computers have I missed?

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, mac, microsoft, mobile, networks, tablet pc, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fixing the missing downloads window in Firefox (Mac)

Posted by shannonclark on August 26, 2008

This evening I encountered an odd problem running firefox on my Mac. I went to Flickr to download a photo of mine to use as a new desktop background. (cc license so you are free to do the same)

But when I went to pop open the downloads window to see the file name to open it, I couldn’t get my downloads window to open. It appeared as a window option on the windows menu, but nothing I did would cause it to actually, in fact, be visible.

So I poked around a bit online and then into the innards of firefox a little bit and I found a very simple, few second solution to this problem.

Search for the following file:

downloads.sqlite

It should be present in your firefox profile directory (if you have multiple users on your computer be sure to delete the one from your current user’s profile).

I chose to delete it, which had the side effect of losing my download history (which I didn’t mind) if you want to preserve that this solution won’t be ideal. To delete I simply moved the file from the folder it was in to the trash.

I then closed Firefox (choosing the “save all tabs first” option). Note this is in the latest stable release version of Firefox for the Mac 3.01 as I write this, the “save all tabs first” option is a new one in the 3.0 release.

On rebooting Firefox I was able to open the downloads window as usual, Firefox rebuilt the downloads.sqlite file without what I can only assume was some form of file corruption.

So that is it, a very simple solution in the category of “get rid of corrupt config files”.

Posted in geeks, internet, mac | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

My ongoing issues with MSFT Vista

Posted by shannonclark on April 27, 2008

I hate Vista.

Hate it. Since I have had my Lenovo ThinkPad with Vista my productivity has plummeted. By far this has been the most painful and worst computer owning experience of my lifetime. And I have owned a lot of computers in my time, run a ton of different versions of OSes and I’ve had some seriously bad machines in the past.

What makes this especially painful is that technically my laptop should not be bad, in fact it should be a near dream machine. A very high resolution tablet screen (1400 x 1050), the fantastic keyboard and trackpoint of Thinkpads (more on why I love the trackpoint later). I have 3GB of ram, a dual core Intel chip (not the fastest model but for my uses – mostly web browsing, iTunes, and light other apps should be more than plenty), and a 120GB HD. All in a form factor that weighs just a bit more than 5lbs and has a 9 cell battery that should give it 6+ hours of use.

But since I waste between 10 minutes to upwards of 1 hour whenever I try to wake the computer from sleep and resume my work, I don’t count this has a very useful computer.

It manages to blue screen itself while theoretically “sleeping”.

The wifi is unreliable after waking from sleep, not infrequently failing to detect even strong signals. (but yet reporting itself has functional so Vista just insists that it is seeing only weak signals)

At least every third time or so I wake my laptop from sleep it decides that my screen resolution is much lower and resets itself to a lower resolution, someimtes it does this after I login, often then quickly detecting the problem and reseting itself to the right resolution (but leaving my windows resized as a result). Occasionally it flubs things before I can even enter my fingerprint or password and I then have to try to reset the resolution – which can be tricky at times as it sometimes insists on a spinning cursor while I try to click on the “okay” button to confirm the resolution change.

I have reset my power management settings frequently. I set them how I want them (wifi when plugged in at maximum performance for example) yet a few weeks later they will have reset themselves to different settings without my intervention. Very very frustrating as then my laptop has started to seemingly randomly (and rather quickly) turn off my wifi card by itself.

I have given up on running Outlook on this computer as when I try to do anything in Outlook (latest version, fully patched) more times than not it just freezes and every step is complicated (all I would likely want to do is update my large contacts files which are still in Outlook) but even that seems impossible yet increasingly critical.

Shadow Backup means that overtime my disk has been filling up rapidly yet I can’t configure it to only autobackup the portions of my disk I would care deeply about restoring, and perhaps not to backup portions I would not care in the least about (my frequently changing firefox cache for example, or my also frequently changing iTunes directories for at least my podcast subscriptions which I typically delete after listening)

From a general UI perspective more times than not, generally at least once a day (sometimes many many more times than that) Vista just freezes, spinning my cursor and being generally annoying. And this is on a computer, I remind you, with 3gb of ram and a dual core processor. I’m sure if my laptop had a dedicated video card it might function slightly better, but that’s not an option and I (foolishly I guess) figured that Microsoft and Lenovo would have made sure that the drivers for ThinkPads worked flawlessly – and that the video drivers for Intel graphics would work well as well.

But I guess I was quite wrong about that.

Why I love the trackpoint and hate mice or touchpads

I am a touch typist. On a computer that can keep up with me (which I foolishly figured should be all modern computers but that’s not the case) I type close to 100 wpm or faster. More crucially I do that without ever looking at the keyboard, my hands just know where the keys are and I can type without looking, my eye remains focused on the screen or on materials I am working with, not on the keyboard or what my hands are doing.

With a trackpoint (that little nub that on ThinkPads is located on the keyboard between the G H B & N keys I can navigate and move my cursor all around the screen without moving my hands. All I need to do is shift my (right) first finger a bit to the left and with a bit of pressure can move the cursor anywhere I want it and I use my thumb to select the left or right buttons (I use the right mouse button features extensively)

In contrast to use a trackpad (such as is found on all MacBooks) I would have to physically move my hand, shifting considerably my focus from what I am doing, moving my hands and arms physically and breaking the rhythm of what I am doing (just now I used the mouse to correct the spelling of rhythm and could do so with almost no break in my typing, just a moment of attention to which suggestion was correct and a bit of pressure to move the cursor back to the right location). I do it without even thinking about it, it is just a natural motion incorporated into how I work today.

And even to use a physical mouse, such as the Mighty Mouse I have on my iMac desktop I have to move my hands off the keyboard and on the mouse. Then I am still usually very very frustrated by the significant efforts often needed. For whatever reason I find myself frequently having to physically pick up the mouse and move it up then pull back down and repeat to get the cursor and items on the screen where I need them. In contrast with a trackpoint I can just apply continual pressure and the cursor keeps moving in any given direction (ideal for scrolling through long lists, though a scroll wheel can be useful for that as well but sometimes a scroll wheel is not sufficient for a given task). Perhaps there are settings I could adjust that would make the mouse a bit more function for me (as it is I try to avoid it as much as possible) but that would not avoid the primary issue.

To use a mouse or a touchpad you have to move your hand from the keyboard.

There is not getting around that fact. The trackpoint is the only mouse alternative (at least that I’ve ever seen) which allows you to use it without needing to lift your arms or move them from the keyboard. In turn this means I can position my hands comfortably and leave them there even as I type extended amounts of text without pain (this blog post for example has been typed without my needing to move my hands at all).

If you are not (as perhaps most people are not) a touch typist this may not seem all that important. And if you don’t write 1000’s of words nearly every day (and I need to only keep on writing ever increasing amounts) then you might not see what a big deal this is, but I am a touch typist and I do probably average well north of 5000 words a day (often far more).

And in the next few weeks and months that will only increase as I have to write actively online to market myself and my new ad network, and as I write emails to follow up from the 100’s of people I have met in the past few weeks and who are in many cases prospective publishers, advertisers, investors or others with whom I may need to be in ongoing and active communication (press, potential employees and partners etc).

I am an old NeXT user, I would love to have a great Mac laptop. But the touchpad is seriously a dealbreaker for me it requires a very significant reduction in my workflow and productivity. And further my other issues are that the form factor I most like (the MacBook Air) has a lower resolution screen than my current laptop (lower res means less content on the screen, thus more scrolling, so more use of the touchpad and even lower productivity. I read 1000’s of words of content every day – 100’s of emails, blog posts, twitters and more. Plus the hard drive is smaller than my current one so incapable of holding my media library (and the cost for the SSD version is quite high and the disk space even lower). Thus I would need to use an external drive to hold my media library but with only one USB port I would also need to use a USB hub if I wanted to have my media library and my iPhone/iPod connected at the same time (i.e. so I could sync it). That means a bunch of devices I would have to carry with me, reducing the value of the thin form factor and light weight.

And the larger MacBook or MacBook Pro which are available in resolutions that are nearly as high as my current machine or in fact higher (on the largest versions of the MacBook Pro) are heavy (nearly 7lbs for the 17″), physically large, and do not have great battery life (less then 4 hrs by far). Though I would appreciate the screen resolution, I would not appreciate the lack of the trackpoint, and with a larger screen would be even more need to use the mouse. (and I am also not a huge fan of the single button, even knowing the multifinger tricks to get the right mouse button functions – I use that menu on a very very frequent basis perhaps 100 or more times in a day in many cases).

And though the keyboard on the pro does have the sexy illumination feature (though as a touch typist that isn’t so critical) it is not, in my opinion, a comfortable a keyboard to type on as the ThinkPad keyboards which I think are some of the best ever made in the world, at least for laptops. I type fast and quite accurately on ThinkPad keyboards (which I’ve been using for nearly 6+ years now).

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, mac, microsoft, personal, tablet pc | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Evaluating a new laptop vs refreshing old – MacBook Air vs ThinkPad X60

Posted by shannonclark on March 13, 2008

If you have been reading my blog for a while you may know that I have a ThinkPad X60 as my current laptop and that I have been seriously unhappy with the laptop and Vista (as well as Office 2007 and related software). At the recent SXSW conference where I mostly went without using my laptop at all (as a bit of an experiment in being highly mobile and not carrying a bag at all) when I did try to use my laptop I was seriously frustrated – in one instance it almost literally took 15+ minutes of work before I was able to actually start doing anything – and I had to shut down 5 minutes later.

While at SXSW I was also emailed an opportunity to purchase a friend of a friend’s MacBook Air – he’s decided to buy the MacBook Pro instead. Buying it from him would save me sales tax and would include the external superdrive. But it is the lower end, 80GB edition. And there are more than a few things I would have to add to the system package (AppleCare more crucially).

So in this post I am going to look at the pros and cons of my current options – and most likely won’t reach a clear conclusion. Please add a comment if you have solutions to any of my issues/concerns or if you have suggestions for alternatives I should be considering.

First note, my laptop is an extension of me – I’ve had a laptop as my primary computer since about 1994. Historically I kept most of my machines until they almost literally fell apart – driving them hard though I also have tended to buy very close to the peak at the time I could buy (not as ‘full desktop replacement” but as best weight-to-performance-to-battery-life. So each time I’ve replaced my laptop I have spent up to about $3000 – that said, I don’t really have the spare money to buy a new computer at the moment – but then neither can I afford to be unproductive or to continue to have serious issues on a daily basis.

My use of a laptop

  • heavy and frequent web browsing and research. I am “online” for many hours every day, much of which is spent with many tabs open in my browser (typically Firefox) in which I am researching, writing, and monitoring
  • syncing my iPhone. Most critically with my full contacts database which is, in turn, also synced up to Plaxo. Slightly less critically (since I rarely use Outlook these days) syncing my iPhone with my calendar (this is an area I hope to improve). And I do sync about 6gbs+ of music and the occasional tv episode or short film to my iPhone for later viewing. Most crucially this must include my most recent podcast subscriptions
  • syncing my iPod, especially when traveling. I have 100gb+ of my music (and a few tv shows I’ve bought) on an external HD, I have about 30gb of podcasts on my local disk, I synch about 30gb of my library to my 30gb iPod Video (3gb of new content such as recent podcasts, 16+gb of content I haven’t played recently, and a careful collection of my favorite content I want to have with me)
  • preparing and giving presentations. I speak at conferences, I pitch to investors, advertisers and partners. While I don’t love PowerPoint, I do have to present on a regular and increasingly frequent basis. I do not, however, do much in my presentations which couldn’t easily be done with Keynote (perhaps even could be done better)
  • manage my digital photos. I don’t take enough digital photos (or videos) but I am trying to increase the frequency with which I take photos – and I have a growing collection of photos I’ve taken. I don’t yet have a Flickr Pro account (probably should do that soon) but even with one, I would still want to retain the full resolution, local copies of every photo I’ve ever taken (perhaps stored on an external drive but everything – or at least the stuff that is good enough I might use it – should be at my fingertips at any time
  • manage my contacts. I have something close to 6000 contacts in multiple Outlook contacts files. While this is far too many and many are generated contacts from the testing of various systems (which analyzed my email traffic looking for people I should have as a contact) I really do know a ton of people. My contacts data about them is one of my most precious resources, in many cases complete with photo, bio, notes on when/how we met etc – and in many cases updated via sync with Plaxo (and in some cases LinkedIn as well)
  • manage my email archives and search them. I currently have email going back at least to 2005 and I think with archives back to 2000 on my current laptop (in a collection of Outlook files). Like my contacts data, my email archives are key data for me – data about when I met someone, what our past interactions have been on etc. Overtime I am slowly weeding and culling my archives of the cruft (old mailing lists, commercial solicitations, spam, updates from various websites etc) but even with that process done (which it is far, far from being so) my email past holds much of my memory.
  • keep up with my current email. I mostly use gmail these days, and almost entirely viw the web or my iPhone. I have multiple gmail addresses I watch (my personal address and various emails aliased or forwarded to it, and my professional email address given to only a very few people at the moment but those numbers will rapidly increase) For this as present I use Thunderbird as Outlook is far, far too flaky for me to rely on it
  • Read PDFs. Mostly as part of my ongoing research and product development, I end up with a lot of PDF files to download and read. With more arriving every day. My preference these days is to “print to PDF” rather than to paper for about the past 2+ years I have almost gone without printing anything – just occasionally a travel document or contract needing a physical signature. On my ThinkPad I have a useful but not great “print to PDF” application, Macs have this feature built into the OS.
  • MindMapping and notetaking. Historically I have used MindManager a great deal (but almost not at all for the past year+). More and more I have just taken notes down in simple text files when offline or when online in various applications (including as draft posts for this blog). This is far from ideal, especially as my needs will be growing exponentially in coming weeks and months. Whether I stay on Vista or migrate to a Mac laptop, I will need to get a great note taking, brainstorming, and task management/project management tool or tools.
  • Offline HTML writing. I occasionally blog for other sites than this blog, when I do that I tend to write my posts in an offline HTML editor and then send the editor an HTML file instead of retyping the post or trying to compose the post online (since many conferences where I might be writing from have poor to non-existent and flaky internet access even for the press). Currently I use Microsoft Expression for this, though mostly out of inertia and from having a full copy (actually multiple copies) given to me by Microsoft at various conferences I have attended over the past few years.
  • Very rarely but likely to increase spreadsheet analysis. I can crunch numbers with the best of them, but I’ve never been a spreadsheet junky. My tools of choice start with text and flow out from there – but as I grow my company I will have to make more and more use of spreadsheets over time. And likely web based alternatives won’t fully do everything (currently at least) which I need to do, though for basic collaborative tasks they are great). At least once a quarter, if not more often, I will, however have to present numbers to my board (currently small but as we close our first round of funding likely to grow). On my ThinkPad I have Microsoft Office, on a Mac I’d likely start with iWork Numbers (which I already have on my iMac) and will only buy Excel if I truly need it.
  • and that is about it really. I don’t have games installed on this ThinkPad (just the basics which come with Vista but haven’t used them in years). I have other software installed but almost never run it (Visual Studio for example). Running at boot I have Skype and Google Chat – but actually rarely use either (and for that matter they are both available for the Mac as well). I have Microsoft OneNote (my laptop is a tablet) but I actually almost never use the tablet functionality – silly I know and a bit of a shame, but also very much the truth. I kinda wish I did use it more often, but in actuality I don’t (and apparently I’m far from alone). I also almost never use video playback on my ThinkPad – I think mostly because the experience even with a local file is quite poor. Instead I watch any videos (including video podcasts) on my iPhone or on my iMac desktop – which is also the machine I’ll use mostly when I buy any video content or when I test/use a service like Joost or Hulu.com or another video service.

So with all that said, how can I decide between my various options.

Scenario One – keep ThinkPad but try refresh/reinstallations

At SXSW I spoke with friends who work for Microsoft. One suggestion was that the OEM installation of Vista, especially on ThinkPads unfortunately, is not very clean or well functioning. His suggestion was to get a full install disk of Vista and do a complete wipe and reinstall everything from scratch.

This would require I backed up all my data. That I made a very complete list of all of the software I have installed (antivirus software, firefox, thunderbird, MSFT Office 2007, MindManager, etc) and made sure I had all the relevant license keys for each product as well as the current installer (or at least how to get the latest versions – or in some cases the versions for which I have a license). Then I would have to reformat my disk completely (likely wiping the IBM special partition as well) and reinstall Vista. Then install MSFT Office 2007, FireFox, Microsoft Expression, Thunderbird, anti-virus software, Skype, Google Pack, some of the key pieces of IBM software (password manager using my fingerprint scanner perhaps, power management software etc) and then migrate back my key data (iTunes, Outlook files, recourses/research, writings, photos etc.

All in all that would likely require 1 to 2 full days between the full backups, reformats and very significant post-installation patching efforts.

But as a result I also quite likely have a much cleaner installation, less cruft, likely a much better performing laptop, and might take the opportunity to structure the laptop to also dual boot with a linux installation (Ubuntu?). If I can use the full license to Vista Microsoft gave me a while back the cost for this would be minimal – but the time and effort could be considerable. And almost certainly there would be one or more issues around licenses with something I want to install.

Scenario Two – I buy the MacBook Air (used) from a friend of a friend 

This would cost me about $1800 for a MacBook Air + external superdrive. On top of that I would probably buy additional AppleCare (another $250 or so) so as to have support into the future.

It would have to be shipped from the east coast to here on the west coast – or I might pick it up in person on my next trip to the east coast in a few weeks.

To make the MacBook Air functional for me I would have to install an office suite (iWork? – which I do have a copy of for my iMac have to check on the licensing for whether I can also use that on a laptop). I would likely buy a small bit of software to help migrate my data from Outlook to formats importable into the Mac built-in applications (though I’m not sure if I want to use those apps or not – haven’t ever used them so don’t fully know if I would like them or not).

I would then have to migrate my iTunes library (always painful) and connect an external drive with my music library to the Air, probably connect via a USB Hub so I can also connect my iPhone and/or my iPod. For the iPhone I owuld have to do this AFTER contacts have been synced and I would have to set up the new connections for data for the iPhone (not sure if I also have to reformat it to work smoothly with  the Mac).

If my iTunes data import works smoothly I should have everything set up, but it not I’ll have to spend a lot of time getting iTunes set up for my use (rebuilding smart playlists etc) and I may lose a lot of key data such as timestamps of when I added data to iTunes, playcounts of files, ratings of songs, podcast subscriptions.

Likely I’ll also need to replace my current, 120gb external portable drive with a much larger but still very small external drive. Ideally at least 300+gb but very lightweight. I’d expect the cost for that will be at least $100, likely closer to $150 but I’d be happy to find that’s high. In setting up my podcast subscriptions as well as my subscriptions to tv shows via iTunes I’ll have to decide where those files come from and are stored (ideally I can do this is in a way usable via my iMac as well – but that might be tricky and some files likely should be local to the Air so I can use them when not online)

Very likely I’ll also have to spend $99 a year to get a .mac account so I can use the “back to my mac” feature to reach my desktop iMac and perhaps use the .mac account to do some data synching (though Plaxo may be sufficient for much of what I actually need done.

I’ll also then need to install a variety of useful Mac software – Skitch for example is a big draw for moving to the Mac laptop, a tool I’d expect to use fairly frequently. I knwo there are dozens of other applications which friends would suggest I use and which I would test out and decide amongst over time – apps for productivity, apps for business/brainstorming/notetaking etc. All told I would like spend a fair chunk of change on new software for the Mac laptop – whether I get an Air or another model. But, for the most part, these would also be tools which pretty clearly would be helping me get more done and be more effienct.

In the case of the Air however I almost certainly won’t install VM Fusion or Parallels as there likely simply isn’t the diskspace to use either effectively. In my current home network configuration this means that I have to give up entirely on using my current printer (for which there are not OSX or Linux drivers). So though I don’t print a lot, likely I’ll have to also plan on investing in a new printer.

Scenario Three – another model of a Mac portable 

I do like the Air’s multi-touch trackpad, I can see myself using gestures frequently. So that rules out (for now) the lower end MacBooks or a used/refurbished MacBook Pro. But I would have to give the other MacBook Pro models serious consideration. The 15″ laptop has nearly the same resolution as my current ThinkPad (one of my major concerns with the MacBook Air is that the resolution there is lower than on my ThinkPad – and my ThinkPad’s resolution isn’t high enough for me – I really like be able to have a lot of information on the screen at once. That said the clarity of the Air’s screen is fantastic and the performance of the graphics is better than my ThinkPad so video etc likely will look much better (be playable in fact).

A 15″ MacBook also weighs around the same as my ThinkPad does with the extended life batteries which I have. However the battery life is a bit lower (3 hours or is what I’ve heard but I’ll be checking with people on that). But overall it would be a great machine and would cost not a lot more than the MacBook Air (less perhaps if I can get a discount from a friend who works at Apple which is a serious possibility).

Scenario Four – another model of PC laptop – running Vista 

Least likely, as there are aren’t many other models I might want to buy but this is a consideration.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, internet, iTunes, mac, microsoft, mobile, personal, reviews, tablet pc, working | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

MacWorld – covering for CenterNetworks

Posted by shannonclark on January 15, 2008

I will be covering MacWorld for CenterNetworks. Unfortunately I probably won’t be able to get my press credentials in time to get into the keynote (I may give it a shot early in the morning if I’m up and moving but I’ve been told it is unlikely).

With a press pass my experience of the conference likely will be a bit different than it was in years past when I was “just” there with an exhibit badge. A further difference will be that this year I have a bunch of friends who are working for companies who are exhibiting (in a few cases companies which they own and founded), I also have a large group of friends who are attending MacWorld and also going to the many related parties and events occurring around town all week. So this should be a different yet also fun way to experience the conference.

I am debating whether to bring my laptop or my XO laptop to cover the show. I don’t have a Mac portable – so either machine will almost certainly stand out. From a purely practical standpoint there are some arguments for the ThinkPad – but from a pure fun and engagement with others standpoint the XO wins heads down – I have yet to bring it out somewhere without drawing a crowd of people – most of whom ask where they can buy their own. I suspect even at MacWorld a similar reaction will be found (unless of course as I suspect Apple has a few amazing laptops of their own to reveal…)

So tune in tomorrow for my posts throughout the day and all week long – and follow me via twitter if you want the live as it happens coverage. (such as it is)

Posted in geeks, internet, iTunes, mac, mobile, San Francisco | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

More Vista and Microsoft Outlook 2007 problems

Posted by shannonclark on August 4, 2007

I am beginning to think that Vista and Microsoft in general is going backwards. My current Vista Tablet (a Lenovo Thinkpad X60), which is a dual core intel laptop with 1GB ram, 1GM “memoryboost SD Card”, a 1400×1050 resolution tablet screen, and lots of other bells and whistles (fast, large hd, wifi, bluetooth etc) is by far the slowest and worst laptop I have owned in at least a decade or more – and from a lost productivity standpoint probably ever.

And I have owned a lot of laptops, almost all of which were for their time close to the top of the line. My first being a great Compaq laptop in 1993.

I spent most of the last two weeks getting various hardware faults fixed on my laptop – a broken screen, bad daughter cards and then this week an entirely new systemboard.

At the moment, however, all the hardware faults should have been solved.

However here are my symptoms so you can see what I mean when I say this is the worst OS/laptop combination I have ever used.

1. Startup takes 4-5 minutes. From turning the computer on to having everything booted and working, it routinely takes as long as 5 minutes or more (and not infrequently something about the process fails – not always with notifications either)

2. “sleep” mode is totally and utterly useless and also takes 4-5 minutes to engage IF it works at all.  In theory closing my laptop’s screen or selecting the sleep option on the windows menu should engage “sleep” mode. However more than 1/2 the time this totally fails – and most of the time it takes 4-5 minutes from when I close the screen to when the sleep light is on and everything is in powered down mode. Just this afternoon it utterly failed to engage sleep mode at all – instead leaving me in a mode from which my only option was to power down and reboot.

3. waking from sleep mode takes 3-4 minutes or more – and more often than not upon waking up devices such as my wifi stop functioning.

4. Shutdown more often than not causes faults – I’ve crashed windows explorer while shutting down. Not uncommonly it takes a good 4-5 minutes to shutdown the laptop.

And not this afternoon here are my problems with Outlook 2007. In theory this version of Outlook can handle large mail archives and should be smooth and richly functional.

I have about 2GB of mail in my main mailbox in Outlook (much more in archives but don’t have those even on this machine). In my main contacts addressbook I have about 1100 contacts at the moment (I have about 6000 in total in other contacts folders).

This afternoon I have been entering in contacts from business cards I collected at recent events.

I am running the Plaxo plug-in for Outlook (and a few others)

When I open up a new contact the window is initially unfilled in and takes a good 30 seconds or so to be editable.

While I am entering text, more often than not the cursor starts to spin and my text may or may not ever get entered and it never shows up as I type, it usually is a few seconds delayed (this as I am entering notes into the notes field – when I met someone, their bio from their websites etc)

When I go to enter a phone number I am unable usually to even select the phone number field, but instead have to wait for the cursor to again spin and only then am I able to enter a phone number.

What’s more, when I go to the main outlook window and try to search for a contact I JUST ENTERED – I get back a result that there is no contact with that name!

This type of response as well as user experience is totally unacceptable from a modern piece of software. Indexes should be updated as I entered a new contact – but even if they are not, the time a modern dual core system should take to search a mere 1100 contacts (or in my case if they have to search all my contacts folders about 6000) really should be microseconds. In no case should I get a response that there is no contact with that name when I have just entered one!

Sigh.

I do like Outlook’s contact forms generally speaking – I can finally easily include photos, long form bios etc -though I’d like a lot of changes to the overall fields (for one “IM” is a useless field – I need to be able to note WHICH IM SYSTEM someone has) and today I really should be able to track multiple related websites for most people (blogs and company websites for example)

But if this level of non-performance keeps up I am going to utterly give up on Microsoft (and if you want to buy a really nice tablet – to say run Ubuntu on – contact me, I probably will sell this and get a Mac)

Posted in mac, microsoft, mobile, tablet pc, working | 4 Comments »

Yellow and Green – color blindness and UI design

Posted by shannonclark on July 19, 2007

I am partially colorblind. In college I briefly worked for an eye researcher and took what was then the most accurate colorblindness test in the world. My color blindness is about as minor as possible to still deem me as having colorblindness, but it is very real.

In my case, there is a band of “orange” which appears undifferentiated to my eyes, but which a person with normal color sight would perceive as having variation.

The impact, however, of this very seemingly trivial difference in my eyesight, is that in general there are many yellows and light, yellowy greens which I do not perceive as different.

Take any Mac window. You know those three buttons on the top left side of the screen? I see a red button and then two yellowish buttons. Looking quickly, I can’t tell which is yellow and which is green (I only think that one is green because people have told me).

Or look at the LED’s on an iPod Shuffle (at least on the first generation) there too apparently, I’ve been told, the LED will show yellow for one signal and green for another – but I do not perceive this difference at all.

On the web almost all flash (or javascript) games which involve matching colors end up using yellow and green in a way that make it impossible, literally impossible, for me to play these games with any degree of success.

Windows is by no means exempt here either, in the midst of my troubleshooting my tablet issues today (tablet stopped working as a tablet, system is running insanely slow – 5-6 minutes to boot up, 3-4 minutes to wake from sleep, 10+ minutes sometimes to shut down, 3-5 minutes to sleep) I am running Diskkeeper to defragment my hard drive. Nice, except it too uses yellow and green to show certain different types of files on the system – I literally cannot see which is which.

It is important to realize that this is not a case of I see something as “yellow” which you would call “green”, rather it is that I see both of these shades as the same – I can’t see that there is any difference between them at all – especially when quickly glancing at them (as in playing a game). Intellectually I know there is a difference (say between the buttons on a Mac Window), but my eyes do not show me that difference.

Years ago this is why I never played many computer games and almost never played team online games such as Doom, Battletech, etc. I usually could not perceive the signals they used to show friend or foe. Or in the case of many of the games with puzzles, often they included an aspect which relied on color differences which I could not see. In the case of the first person shooter this lack of differentiation meant that my reactions were much slower, I would have to look for other signals as to “friend or foe” or for targeting etc.

So though I love games, love design, and spent the majority of my time in front of computer screens my colorblindness means that I have not been able to enjoy many of the even very simple pleasures, let along complex ones such as World of Warcraft, which many others enjoy.

I am also not alone with this, figures differ a bit and do have some racial/geographic differences, but something like 10% of the population (more men than women since it is at least in part tied to the same chromosomes as gender) are color blind. Some yellow/green like myself and others red/blue. A few do not see color at all, but I most, like myself, see color, just not all the same variations as someone with normal sight.

I will try to find illustrations and examples, but if you read this post and are involved in UI design – on the web, on desktops, or for that matter in any game console or other consumer product, TEST YOUR UI with people who have color blindness. There are many colors you can choose from – select ones which very rarely have perception problems. Also, whenever possible use MULTIPLE signals to show difference, rather than only using color (as in the case of the mac buttons without a mouseover action), do something like those buttons do on mouse over – show symbols on them as well. But realize that even then people such as myself literally cannot act on an instruction such as “click on the yellow button”. Make sure you say something like “click on the middle, yellow button with the minus sign”

And if you work for Apple or Microsoft – can you please change your defaults.

Posted in mac, microsoft, personal, tablet pc | 4 Comments »

Syncing iPod on Two Computers

Posted by shannonclark on July 9, 2007

[this is a shortened version of my original post, that post was lost while trying to post it]

I can sync my iPod to BOTH my Vista laptop and my old XP laptop (which is now a Parallel’s virtual machine on my mac desktop).

How did I do this?

Bonus Tip: If you have playlists which depend on DATE ADDED, do a select all on the tracks in that playlist, then right click, select “get info” and add label to the Grouping ID3 tag. Then rewrite those smartplaylists to work on the Grouping ID3 tag instead of date added (assuming that you are say tracking all the music you added in 2005, not something like “music I added this past week)

Step 1. Copy files from the old computer to the new system. In my case 3/4 of my 120+ GB library was already on an external drive (so it was just a matter of getting the drive letter the same on my Vista system), but the other files I had to move over. Note: Vista does not allow you to create C:Documents and Settings which was the root of the path to user folders on XP, instead you have to use C:/Users/username/Music.

Then select Export Library inside of iTunes. Save this XML file and copy it to the new computer as well (I put it on my external drive).

Step 2.  On the new computer navigate to the iTunes folder.

Rename the file “iTunes Music Library.xml” (I add the date to the file name).

Copy the .itl file (if you want to recover). [if extensions are not showing, change that view option for this folder, will make life easier for you]

Open the .itl file with wordpad (NOT Word). It is a binary file. Select all the contents (control^a) and then delete them. Save the file (you should now have a 0 byte .itl file).

Copy the exported XML file from your old computer to the iTunes directory, rename it to “iTunes Music Library.xml”.

Open it in WordPad (again NOT Word).

Now come the tricky, detail orientated bit. Look for the file paths which point to your old file locations. Search and replace them with the new path. Make sure you get this exactly right – no extra spaces, no missing /, nothing mispelled.

Note, all the above assumes your new computer’s iTunes is a fresh, unused installation – i.e. you don’t already have any content on the new machine. If you do, you will have to first export that data and instead of copying one file with the other, you will have to combine them – which is a much trickier task – not impossible, just tricky as the file has two main sections – individual track details and playlist details and you have to merge them. I have not tested this and I suspect in some cases you might also have to watch for overlapping “unique” ID’s for tracks.

Step 3.  With all external drives attached and with the correct drive letters, open up iTunes. It will complain that the .itl file is corrupt and will rebuild it. When this completes (may take some time on a large collection), you will have iTunes with all of your old playlists, play counts, and ratings in place.

Note: this does overwrite the “Date Added” field with the time you do this import. This means that as I noted above, any playlists which depended on the date added field may now be broken.  Your tracks, however, will be in the same order as before (I kept my in date added descending order usually). If you do the trick I noted, you should have the same functionality as before.

The result is you can plug in your iPod and it will sync with your new computer without a whisper of a complaint. You will, however, have to activate your new computer with the iTunes music store before syncing any protected conten (or playing it).

I have not tested this extensively. I assume that over time if the two installations of iTunes change, each time you plug in your iPod it will “sync” with the current machine’s iTunes, but will not add files it holds not present on that machine (i.e. a podcast I download on one machine) and I’m not sure how changes to play/skip counts will be tracked.

I am also working with two Windows machines – not sure if the same solution would work across Mac & PC (since the underlying file system of the iPod might be different).

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, iPhoneDevCamp, iTunes, mac, microsoft, podcasts | 1 Comment »