Max OS X

Update on RSS

I started a post a few weeks ago after reading Dr. Dang’s piece: The RSS mess and his follow up piece: More RSS mess but I got distracted and never finished the post. These are excellent pieces of thinking and writing on the current state of RSS aggregators and clients post Google Reader.

Reading the good doctor’s two posts assured me that I’m not the only one still using RSS as my primary way to get updates from a variety of web sites I follow, and that not everyone has abandoned this excellent technology for the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

Even though this site is running on WordPress.com I’m not in the habit of using WordPress’ internal “Reader”, preferring to use ReadKit on my Mac and Reeder 2 for iOS (iPhone and iPad). I used to use Reeder for Mac and in writing this decided to download and test it again, we’ll see. I use Feedly as my cloud aggregator and for the most part this is all working well for me.

Since the Mac OS X.10 Yosemite upgrade, my entire computer including my RSS setup has become a bit more unstable but I’m pretty sure Apple is now releasing software with more bugs in it than in years past and this stuff will hopefully be cleaned up with a Yosemite update.

For me, RSS and my feed reader remain the most used and most important technology and application on my computer and on my iPad (Air 2), to a lesser extent on my iPhone (5S) simply because the screen is too small for me to follow things I want to read to their host web site.

Here’s a list of the various posts on RSS I’ve made here over many years:

How OS X Lion leads to the next computing revolution

How OS X Lion Leads to the Next Computing Revolution

This is an excellent overview of how the next Mac OS X update, OS 10.7 “Lion” is moving Mac OS a bit closer to some of what users enjoy about the iOS (iPad and iPhone) experience.

This evolution in operating system hasn’t really affected Apple’s computer hardware yet and the new MacBook Pros Apple released yesterday are examples of that but the MacBook Air with its smaller solid state storage and less emphasis on raw processor horsepower is an example of it. Many (me included) were hoping for a bit more MacBook Air influence on the new MacBook Pros but no doubt that will come a bit later after Mac OS 10.7 is out for a while.

[via Steve Splonskowski]

Disaster and Air change my computer strategy

I’ve been a MacBook Pro user and before that a PowerBook user since there have been portable Macs. I moved to having a PowerBook as my sole machine many years ago and a 15″ MacBook Pro has been my only computer since they came out. My current three year old 15″ MacBook Pro is one of the last models before the line went unibody and I’ve been considering an upgrade for a while now.

Disaster
Yesterday afternoon I was doing some work downstairs with my MacBook Pro and was finished and ready to cook dinner. So, I closed the computer, walked upstairs to the office, opened the computer thinking I’d connect one of my externals and do a SuperDuper backup like I do every evening at the same time. When I opened the computer the optical drive made its typical noise but the machine didn’t wake up. I tried hitting the brightness button on the keyboard, waking it up with key hits, and then after trying every method I know to wake a stubborn MacBook Pro, I did a keyboard/power button reset. The machine’s optical drive made its sound but all I heard afterward was a click of the hard disk, a small flash of the sleep light, and the computer was dead.

I pulled the battery and unplugged it and held down the power button for 5 seconds to reset the power manager and that didn’t help either. I attempted to connect a backup firewire drive to it and hold option down to boot off the external but it didn’t get far enough into the boot process to recognize the other drive.

In short, I was in trouble. I wasn’t sure at that point if I’d crashed the hard disk or something else happened but that was the end of what I felt I could do.

Miniaturization isn’t always good
One of the liabilities of using a portable computer is the miniaturization of its components relative to iMacs and Mac Pros and between smaller hard disks, energy saving powering the machine up and down, and moving the computer around, components take a bit more of a beating than they do on the larger machines. Apple builds this increase in liability into the cost of AppleCare which is a lot higher on portable Macs but that’s never stopped me from buying it. I’m glad I have.

I called AppleCare and told them what happened and the very polite guy on the other end told me it might not be the hard disk, it might be the logic board and he made an appointment for me at the Apple Store in Danbury, Connecticut (my favorite local Apple store) and they would attempt to diagnose the problem before sending it in.

I made dinner and watched a movie to get my mind off of it but I was seriously bummed last night.

Luckily when these things happen my wife gladly loans me her 13″ unibody iBook (I’m using it now) and I had a SuperDuper backup from the day before that was bootable and so, I was back in business in a few minutes, minus some things I’d done during the day yesterday. Before going to bed I made sure that I could continue working on this setup and used MobileMe to pull down the few updates I’d made to my address book and calendar yesterday so those things are synced. I also tried to remember what I’d done during the day and updated a few files that I knew I’d worked on. My guess is no matter what happens to the MacBook Pro hard disk I’ll be fine.

I figured that this trip to the Apple store would also give me a chance to see the new MacBook Airs and see how readable their screens are relative to the iPad or to a 13″ or 15″ MacBook Pro.

MacBook Air
I walked into the Apple store early for my appointment and immediately went over to a table full of new MacBook Airs, both 13″ and 11″ models.

Each of these machines is spectacular in its own right. They’re both paper thin, very light, very sleek and extremely attractive. I was tempted to just buy one on the spot, seriously.

I shut both of them down and started them up to see how the solid state boot process worked and it’s very fast, amazingly fast. The 13″ which has a faster processor felt a bit zippier but for what most people will use these for they’re both fine. The 13″ as had been stated in many reviews, feels as fast as a MacBook Pro. It really does.

I then got both of them set up the way I’d be using them:

1. Changed desktop to a light blue instead of Apple’s space scene

2. Made the dock hide

3. I ran Safari and made the window fill the entire screen to give each an iPad like feel.

I went to this web site (Richard’s Notes) and read the last post. On the 13″ model, which has the same resolution as a 15″ MacBook Pro things were smaller than they look to me here on this MacBook (which is similar to my older 15″ MacBook Pro). Not too small to read but a bit smaller for sure. On the 11″ model, which also has a very high resolution screen, things shrunk more, a lot more.

But, and this is a big but, I didn’t find either of them unreadable. In Safari hitting Command + will increase text size and one size up on the 11″ did the trick. The 13″ could be left alone although it too was a lot easier to read in Safari with an increase of one text size.

I also tried using the Monitors control panel to reduce the resolution on each of them but using any of these machines in resolutions other than their native resolution seems to play havoc with antialiasing on text and I think the better solution for the cleanest screen is to increase text size in Safari rather than mess with native resolution.

I was able to hold onto these two MacBook Airs and walk over to an iPad and launch Safari and pull up my web site. The iPad in landscape orientation was just as readable as the 13″ without text size adjustment but the 11″, which compares with the iPad in footprint is a bit tougher to read. Again, the fix is simple in Safari although in other applications may be more complex.

Bottom line, I’d love to have either model of MacBook Air but if I had to choose one today I’d choose the 13″ model as it would be more universally useful to me and more readable.

But, that wasn’t the end of my exploration at the Apple store.

Back to the iMac
Given that I’ve just had a hardware failure on a 15″ MacBook Pro, my only computer, which gets used for everything all day long and given that it’s three years old, coming to the end of its life, and given that “cloud computing” with MobileMe, my iPhone and maybe an in between device like an iPad or a MacBook Air is starting to come into sharper focus, it seems like it’s time to toss the entire scenario up in the air again and come up with some other solutions.

If one isn’t going to be a one computer guy, what kinds of things could one do with the approximately $4000 it would cost to get a new high end 15″ MacBook Pro and a 27″ Apple display (with AppleCare on both).

Well, one could buy a 21″ iMac with a Core i5 processor, 8 gigs of memory, 2 terabytes of hard disk space and AppleCare for $2218. This gives you a very fast computer, a big monitor, bigger components, and cheaper AppleCare for a very decent price.

One could add to that a “low end” 13″ MacBook Pro with 4 gigs of memory and 250 gigs of storage for $1448. Maybe buy a low end iPad for the plane and have the small MacBook Pro and iPad as a traveling kit.

Or, one could add the 13″ MacBook Air with 4 gigs of memory, 256 gigs of flash storage and AppleCare for $1948.

Or, could could add the 11″ MacBook Air for a bit less money.

The Guy with the MacBook Air
After I started thinking about these things and then walked over to the 15″ MacBook Pro that I thought might be my next machine, it looked like a huge brick compared with the MacBook Air models or even its 13″ MacBook Pro cousin.

Wow, it may be that my days of being a 15″ MacBook Pro user are coming to and end. This is huge for me. I mean, if Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) uses a 15″ MacBook Pro as her sole computer, that’s about as cool as it gets, right? This is what I’ve been doing for years and years. But, my guess is that if Stieg Larsson had lived to write more books, Lisbeth would be using a MacBook Air in future episodes.

If I get an iMac that takes the pressure off of a single portable computer being a jack of all trades. The portable device can potentially be more like an iPad and be primarily a “reader” and only secondarily a creator.

While I’m not happy that my computer failed, I’m not sure I’d have come to this new place in my thinking about these things had I simply seen the MacBook Air models, as amazing as they are. I also had to reconsider the idea of having a desktop computer, not just for the big screen or lower price, but also for its durability.

I’m not sure I’ll be doing this entire change at once or when I’ll actually start doing it, but in reality, I could easily walk into an Apple store today and buy both the iMac and some kind of portable computer “companion” and be done with it.

Those are my notes. I’ll have more to add to this tomorrow after spending a day in New York with a friend who will be carrying an iPad. We plan to get to at least one Apple store in addition to the photo expo at Javits. Stay tuned.

New MacBook Pro and Mac OS X.5 (Leopard)

MacBook Pro

I recently bought a new 15″ MacBook Pro to replace my first generation model. There were a number of reasons I did this upgrade now:

1. Apple just came out with new versions of the computer.

2. I needed a MacBook Pro that could handle more than 2 gigs of memory so my photo editing work with Lightroom would go more smoothly.

3. I had not yet upgraded to Leopard and figured I’d do it when I got a new machine.

4. I wanted to use the new iChat screen sharing feature of Leopard to help my 92 year old mother with her computer in Los Angeles but her older computer would choke on Leopard so I needed to give her my old MacBook Pro with Leopard installed to make this work. This was the piece that tipped me as well as Apple coming out with new models of the computer.

Meta Process
I bought the new MacBook Pro (MBP), backed up the old MBP with SuperDuper!, transferred my stuff from the old machine with migration assistant, put the extra 2 gigs of memory in, took the old machine apart to get 250 gig HD out and put a 100 gig HD in for my mother, put the 250 in the external case my 100 was in, installed Leopard on old MBP and set it up for my mother. She mostly uses Gmail so I got her account up and running here in Connecticut.

When I got to LA last week I moved her stuff from her old G4 PowerBook onto her new MBP and taught her how to use screen sharing. We had a few sessions with it and hopefully we’ll practice more now that I’m home.

I brought the old G4 home and it will get scrubbed and used for something.

The entire process of getting the new machine, moving my old stuff onto it and setting up my mother’s machine went without a single hitch. Apple’s Migration Assistant works spectacularly well and it’s hard to believe we went through over ten years of moving things around by hand in the old days. In my mind, the smoothness of this process is another part of Apple’s design genius that few take the time to recognize.

New Buying Process
I generally buy my Macs direct from Apple but because Apple has stores in Connecticut they charge sales tax here, even on mail orders. Still, I always figured they’d have the latest products in their pipeline and if there was a small hardware change in a product they’d have it earlier than their resellers. That was my rationale anyway.

There are two versions of 15″ MacBook Pro and one version of the 17″ and one can customize each.

I got the 15″ model, 2.5 ghz processor, matte screen, 250 gig HD, 512 mb memory on graphics card.

I got this model because of the memory on the graphics card which would be useful if I ever switch back to Aperture or buy an external monitor. Otherwise I’d have been happy with the lower end 2.4 ghz model and I’d have simply bumped up the HD to 250 gigs on that model.

I also bought a memory upgrade from B&H to install myself which would give me 4 gigs of memory.

B&H’s prices on the memory are as good or better than anyone else’s and they make it easy to choose the right memory upgrade because it’s listed as an accessory for the computer.

The memory is quite easy to install and one is left with the original 2 x 1 gig DIMMs which one can put away to possibly use in case the new memory fails.

If you don’t have a small philips screwdriver consider this kit if you can find it: Newer Technology 7 piece tool set which includes the phillips “0” driver and the torx “T6”. The phillips “0” is all you need to put memory in a MacBook Pro.

I also bought AppleCare for the new computer and I had problems registering it. It’s possible that B&H pre-registers AppleCare accounts when it’s bought with a new computer from them but if they did, the person who did it mistyped the account number and it took me a bit to get it squared with Apple. That was the only bump in this process and frankly, it could have easily happened had I bought the computer at an Apple store as well.

I’m completely satisfied with B&H as a vendor of Apple products and will continue to use them as the price is right as is the service.

Notes on New MacBook Pro
The battery life on the new computer is incredible, much longer than any I’ve had before. Some or all of this must be from the new LED backlighting on the screen. Whatever it is, it’s great. I can now watch a full length DVD without running out of juice.

Between LED backlighting on new matte screen and new typography in Leopard, the screen on the new computer looks different from the old. It’s taking me a while to get used to it.

MacBook Pro left front edge

The fit and finish on the new computer is less than perfect. The top deck’s fit to the bottom of the case is not exact and there’s a ridge on the left side, like the top deck is a bit too big for the bottom.

<MacBook Pro right front edge

That ridge doesn’t exist on the right side so it’s a flaw, not a feature. I noticed this on my last MacBook Pro as well: lack of smooth fit between top deck and bottom.

When the computer is closed and latched there is more play between the closed screen and the bottom (computer) such that if I carry the MacBook Pro around like a book the top clicks as the screen moves away from and then back toward and hits the keyboard/bottom.

The sensor(s) that control screen dimming must be built into the speaker vents because with automatic screen dimming turned on my screen would change at the oddest times. It seems I must put my hand or hands over the speaker vents when I type or mouse or do things with the computer and when I do, the screen lights up thinking night is falling. I turned that feature off for now until I can retrain my hands.

Upgrading to Leopard
The upgrade to Leopard is the first major Mac OS upgrade I’ve not done as soon as it came out. Because of my photography and my use of Lightroom and Aperture, I didn’t want to mess with a working system and I was quite happy with Tiger: it was stable and while not perfect, I had printing working perfectly. Given that I’m still having problems with printing with Leopard I’m glad I waited on this upgrade.

The printing architecture of Leopard has changed and it’s both a blessing and a curse. So far I can’t print as I did from Tiger in Lightroom or Aperture although I’m still working on it and will no doubt be back in business soon, and while I can now use paper profiles in Pages, there seem to be bugs in the system’s ability to remember settings between print jobs.

I’m not crazy about the new look of the Dock and I seem to remember hacks to get rid of the bottom “shelf” if one were so inclined. I’m not that motivated but I still don’t like it.

Cover flow in the Finder is a godsend (thanks Mamen) for reviewing images before importing them into Lightroom or iPhoto. It’s fast and easy to use.

Likewise, Quick Look is incredibly useful: tap the spacebar with a document selected in the Finder and you can see what’s in it without opening it. Great for images, PDFs, anything.

The new Dictionary is fantastic with both local content and a Wikipedia button. I’ve not used Wikipedia on the web since I got this machine, preferring the less cluttered UI of the Dictionary.

The new iChat screen sharing feature really works amazingly well and is easy to use.

The new voice “Alex” in Leopard is quite spectacular, one of the best free text to speech voices I’ve ever heard. Turn on text to speech, choose a reading key (I use “T” for talk) and select an article on Salon or the New York Times and have your computer read it to you.

I like the Downloads and Documents folders on the dock although it’s taking me a while to get used to them being there.

I have yet to use Time Machine at all since I’m happy with SuperDuper! and I’ve continued my daily backup routine onto multiple external hard disks. I plan to buy a Time Capsule at some point but not quite yet.

Endnotes
Really, my biggest issue now is printing and I hope to have that solved this week. That’s not an issue with the new computer but with Leopard and it may just be my own stupidity in not knowing how to migrate my old process rather than problems with Leopard.

Other than that, the new computer is incredibly fast at everything I do with it and with the extra memory I can leave things running while I edit large batches of RAW images with Lightroom. For this reason alone the upgrade was worthwhile for me but it’s also nice to be using the latest version of Mac OS X, I don’t like to get too far behind on these things.