Leopard Tidbits

On the weekend, I did something semi-unusual: I installed a major new operating system on the day of it’s release. This is only semi-unusual because my hesitation only applies to Microsoft operating systems. On Linux, I’d install the latest and greatest of everything, and then potentially spend a few hours cleaning up the mess I’d made (remember, the purpose was to play, not get any work done).

In any case, Leopard Day arrived and I happily set about installing it on my Macbook Pro after making a full system backup on my new Seagate FreeAgent Go external drive. I’d be interested to see a correlation between external hard drive sales and the release of Leopard, as I’m fairly certain you’d see a fairly hefty spike. As an aside, the FreeAgent is a nice little drive that satisfies my major requirements: lightweight, and bus powered (meaning it doesn’t need an external power supply). It’s not overwhelmingly fast (it took about 3 hours for SuperDuper! to archive my 70gigs of data), but once Time Machine gets running I don’t notice it at all.

It’s taken a few days to get fully comfortable with Leopard. I have run across a few annoyances (and bugs) but the good definitely outweighs the bad.

Without further padding the content of this post, here’s a collection of thoughts and tweaks related to Leopard that you might find interesting:

  • The Address Book no longer has support for Bluetooth devices. This is disappointing, but Blue Phone Elite looks like a good replacement for that functionality, as well as what Proximity provides.
  • On a related note, Proximity seems to work just fine, as does everything else in my Calendar Synchronization post (excepting, of course, the Address Book SMS stuff).
  • Quicksilver was picking up the backup copies of my applications from the Time Machine drive. To disable this, in Quicksilver select Catalog / Applications and de-select “Find All Applications”
  • Spotlight was finding stuff on my Time Machine drive as well. I’m not sure if this happens to everyone, as the drive wasn’t empty when I initially plugged it in, and various posts in the Apple discussion groups seem to indicate it’s not a common problem. Solved by adding the Time Machine backup directory to Spotlight’s Privacy page.
  • Spaces is great, but I wish it were a little more configurable. I run a multi-monitor setup most of the time (laptop sits open to one side of an external monitor). What I would really like is to have separate “spaces” for each monitor. Unfortunately, Spaces sees the two monitors as one large workspace, and switching to a new space swaps both. I would prefer to have Mail, iCal and iTunes open on the laptop monitor at all times, but setting those apps to “All Spaces” makes a big mess when I disconnect the laptop and run as a single screen.
  • Spaces seems to have several bugs related to switching applications. In truth, I don’t know if these are bugs in the apps or in Spaces, but certain apps don’t behave themselves very well. For example, Cmd-Tabbing to Firefox will send me back to the correct Space but not activate Firefox. Adium doesn’t seem to respect the “All Spaces” command very well. And Photoshop CS3 has trouble with it’s fading UI elements when you activate it from another Space. None of these are show-stoppers, but hopefully they will get resolved fairly soon.
  • The FreeAgent Go comes with a double-headed USB connector – one for data, and one for power. Turns out, you only need the data plug connected on the Macbook Pro. This is nice, as the MBP only has 2 USB ports and they are on opposite sides of the machine. The additional power connector is, allegedly, only required for certain laptops that don’t provide enough power over a single port. Fair enough, but the MBP does so you can forgo plugging them both in.
  • I’ve had a few power-related issues since the update. Once, the system crashed when waking from sleep. On another occasion, the system refused to power down. Finder stopped, but the OS hung showing nothing but desktop. I have a suspicion this is related to Bluetooth devices (doh!). I’ve also had a few occasions where, when reconnecting the external monitor, I log in and the system immediately goes to sleep. I can wake it and log in immediately with no harm, but it’s still odd. I’m considering resetting the system manager to see if that clears things up.

It’s Fun to Play With Stuff (or Why I’m Glad I Switched to the Mac)

On the day after Apple announced a record quarter, John Gruber runs down a list of possible reasons why people are switching to the Mac. I’m not going to argue with any of his statements — for the most part, I think he’s dead on. But I’d like to add one of my own, based on my personal experience of switching from the PC to the Mac.

I’ve always been a PC user, at least since our first 386SX-16 that my Dad bought for us when I was in high school. Before that, I used Apple IIs at school and spend many a day playing Pools of Radiance and coding text adventures on my Commodore 64. I had certainly played with Macs, but they always seemed foreign and inaccessible to me. I can vividly remember commenting to a friend (in the days of Windows 3.1) that using a Mac made me feel like I was trapped in Windows and couldn’t get out of it. Keep in mind, I also had about 4 different versions of my autoexec.bat and config.sys files that could be swapped in depending on the memory requirements of the program (or, more likely) game I wanted to run.

In any case, I pretty much lived and breathed PCs from DOS 4.2 through to Windows XP, and made my living developing web and Flash applications on a variety of PC hardware. In the meantime, I also ran Red Hat Linux on an old Pentium 100 (complete with F00F bug) that served as my router in the pre-LinkSys NAT box days, and even dabbled with a Debian (unstable) KDE desktop for about 9 months — although frequent reboots to Windows (or sluggish sessions in VMWare) to use Photoshop made it impossible to give up on Windows completely. All the while, I followed the progress of OS X from a distance, happily digesting Ars Technica’s in-depth reviews of the OS on every release from pre-beta through to Tiger. I’m a curious fellow that way.

For me, using a computer has only partially been about the tools that it provides. It’s also about playing. I love to install things, mess around with servers and settings, just to see if I can get it to work. It’s the same reason I bought a PSP — because it was hackable. I could make it do fun and interesting things. I could play with it, not just on it.

Right now, it’s the Mac that embodies this sense of play the best for me in the computer world. Linux was fun for a while, but it lacked the professional tools I needed to do my job. And it lacks the completeness that Apple provides, each service integrated with the other in a way that makes you want to connect the widgets to the doodads, and watch them play together.

This sense of play extends beyond the OS services and bundled applications. A system like Quicksilver could never exist on Windows or Linux, as much because of the APIs exposed through AppleScript as because of the giddy sense of discoverability built into the application by someone that clearly cares dearly for the Apple ecosystem. (It’s funny to write that about Quicksilver, an app I once described to a fellow Unix-head as “like a pipe for GUIs”).

The Mac opened up a whole new world for me to play in, and the rabbit hole runs pretty deep. For me, Vista was the final straw — not only did it not provide anything new and fun to play with, it made everything my PC used to do seems horrifically slow. It lasted a few months, and then I switched.

Because if it’s not play, it’s just work.

Calendar Synchronization, continued.

A few days ago I posted about using Spanning Sync and Proximity to synchronize iCal, Google Calendar and my cell phone (a k790, although any phone supported by iSync should work).

It turns out there is a free alternative to Spanning Sync called GCALDaemon, which is a bit more work to get running but a decent alternative if you don’t want to pay for Spanning Sync.

Continue reading

The Perfect Storm of Calendar Synchronization: iCal, Google Calendar and Cell Phone

There was a time when I could keep my entire schedule in my head. Years of university test times and due dates were dutifully tracked by my brain. In the intervening years, however, I seem to have killed most of my long and short term memory with booze — or maybe I’m just a whole lot busier.

In any case, I’ve been facing an increased sense of panic every time I try to book an appointment. What if I have a conflict? Krista keeps her entire life in the pages of a daily calendar, so I’ve attempted to follow suit, digital style.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried, but every previous attempt failed for one reason or another:

  • Google Calendar: I love having my schedule available from pretty much any machine with an internet connection, but launching it seems horribly slow and the whole experience is oddly divorced from everything else on my Mac. I could write a whole other post (and maybe I will) about my migration from Windows native apps to Web Applications, and back to native Mac apps. I think it says a lot about how good OS X’s integrated tools are, though, that I’ve taken that path.
  • iCal: really, a beautiful calendar, but I missed the “everywhere-ness” of Google Calendar. I can do a one-way sync from Google to iCal using iCal’s Subscriptions, but anything I add to my local calendar won’t get reflected back. This is critical, as I’d like to be able to check the calendar from any other machine, including my cell.
  • Sony Ericsson k790’s built-in Calendar application: a surprisingly full-featured little calendar tool. For my process to work, I need to be able to quickly add events on the go. iSync takes care of synchronizing iCal and the k790, but I’m too forgetful (and lazy) to sync it myself whenever changes are made.
Continue reading

ReCompletion

I suspect that for most fans of electronic music, there was a trigger song, band or album. It’s not like you hear this stuff on the radio — certainly not where I grew up in Calgary. College radio played hard-core techno on Friday nights, but to me it was (and remains) totally inaccessible.

My song was Orbital’s “Halcyon + On + On” from the Hackers soundtrack (at least, that’s where I heard it). I’d listened to a bit of other stuff, but that track blew my mind. I promptly went out and bought In Sides, and never looked back. Over the years, I collected every other Orbital album as well. Long before I dreamt of being a DJ, I imagined building new sounds out of “I Wish I Had a Duck”, from Snivilization. Layer upon layer of electro-squish and samples, Orbital created an imaginary world in the confines of that song.

Years later, I found myself searching for an opening track to complement Layo & Bushwacka!’s brilliant “Saudade”, and I reached for “I Wish I Had a Duck”. Orbital’s best work still resonates, and in a way this mix brings me full circle.

Sidenote: if you’re an Orbital fan, be sure to check out Paul Hartnoll’s solo album, “Ideal Condition”. Justifiably moving away from the core Orbital sound, he manages to find some brilliance in cinematic work and pop collaborations.

Tracklist:

  1. I Wish I Had A Duck – Orbital
  2. Saudade (Remix) – Layo & Bushwacka!
  3. Rej (A Hundred Birds Remix) – Ame
  4. When I Listen 2 This Sound, feat. ZM (Alex Celler Mix) – Nikola Gala
  5. Builder (Kris Menace Re-Edit) – Eva
  6. Anime (Sequential Remix) – Hernan Cattaneo, John Tonks
  7. North American Scum (Kris Menace Remix) – LCD Soundsystem
  8. Affectation (Dousk Dub Electro) – Chris Nemmo & Andree Eskay
  9. One & Only – Jimmy van M & Nick Warren
  10. Tornado – Habersham
  11. Discopolis (A Hundred Birds Remix) – Lifelike & Kris Menace
  12. Tease – James Harcourt
  13. One Day (Spiritchaser Terrace Mix) – The Craftsmen

Play

Why The File Manager is Still the Best Media Manager

After I first installed Windows Vista, I attempted to use the default application (whenever possible) for activities which I usually installed some kind of helper app. For example, I initially toyed with Media Player instead of installing Winamp, and use the included photo manager instead of grabbing Photoshop Album.

In the process of installing my iPod software, I also decided to give iTunes a whirl. I have never actually used iTunes — it’s always been completely at odd with my expectations from music management software. The few times I played with it, it was baffling. I didn’t quite understand it’s legendary status as the most usable media player available. It was also huge. Continue reading

In Completion

It seems silly that it’s been so long since my last release, a problem that’s rectified by In Completion. My first set with the new Mixmeister Fusion software, it’s a lot closer to my live sound than the studio sound of previous mixes. The tone is mellow overall, but you’ll find a few barn burners stuffed in there as well. Enjoy.

Tracklist:

  1. Tripswitch – Indigo
  2. Ormatie – Glossow (Funk Harmony Park Remix)
  3. Jody Wisternoff – Nostalgia (Remix)
  4. Funk Harmony Park – Crystal Sky (Hernan Cattaneo & John Tonks Remix)
  5. Jaytech – Starbright (Jaytech Touch Your DJ Mix)
  6. Above & Beyond – Good For Me (King Roc Dub Mix)
  7. Dominic Plaza – Korny (D-Nox & Beckers Remix)
  8. Jaunt – Travelling
  9. Benz & MD – Signals
  10. Achillea – The Seeress Prophecy (Micah’s Premonitions Remix)
  11. Jaytech – Manipulator (Parallel Sounds Remix)
  12. Tsewer Beta – Marl 1 (You’ll Never Guess Remix)

Play

cactus spines


By day, she’s an evolutionary biologist. But secretly I think my sister wants to be a designer too.

Windows Vista and *My* Happiness

A few weeks ago I wrote about some concerns about Vista’s usability in a post titled Windows Vista and the Measurement of Happiness. I’ve now had a chance to test those concerns myself on my home machine, and what I’ve found is a mixed bag.

To give Vista a fair chance, I’ve tried to leave it as uncustomized as possible, usually the default Microsoft solution when one was available instead of installing my preferred app. On XP, it takes me 4-5 hours of tweaking and installing to get my desktop to where I want it. For Vista, I’m only go to seek out alternatives after I’ve tried the built-in solution for a while.

Continue reading

I Finally Have Wii

After an seemingly endless series of false starts and short shipments, I finally have my Nintendo Wii. It arrived on Friday via Canada Post, a full 4 days after the guaranteed delivery date, just as panic was starting to set in. I had images of Future Shop employees or delivery men gleefully playing my Wii in their basement as I constantly reloaded Canada Post’s useless package tracking webpage. I was pleasantly surprised on Friday morning when I received a nice large delivery at work — just in time for me to leave town for Christmas Holidays and Krista’s birthday.

In any case, Krista and I spent a drunken few hours on Friday night setting it up and giggling as we created our Miis, then promptly getting my ass kicked at bowling. One thing is initially clear: I desperately need a second controller. The brilliance of Nintendo systems (I bought a GameCube shortly after release just to play Super Monkey Ball and Mario Party with my friends) is the social aspect of the party games. Passing the single remote between two people playing Golf or Bowling is fun but there’s an unfulfilled promise of multiplayer tennis and baseball. My second remote (and a copy of Zelda) are currently trapped in the bowels of Christmas package delivery hell, and probably won’t see the light of day until the new year.

Unboxing the Wii was a dream. Nintendo has clearly made a great effort in this regard, and everything is well labelled and easy to set up. Within minutes I was connected to my wireless network, and after a quick system update we were giggling again. It’s a happy feeling knowing that 50% of the electronics in my living room are connected to the internet and willing to tell me what the weather is like outside. Helpful, since it’s unlikely I’ll be seeing “outside” for quite some time.

I also had a chance try test out the Wii’s “trial version” of the Opera browser. I love Opera’s non-PC browsers. I won’t touch their PC version as I’m not fond of the UI, and you’d have to pry Firefox (and it’s add-on system) out of my cold, dead hands, but between Opera Mini and Opera Wii they’ve got the alternative-browser-on-an-alternative-device market locked up.

Opera Wii (Wopera?) is fast, makes excellent use of the Wii’s navigation, and renders this site flawlessly. The auto-completion on the on-screen keyboard makes typing URLs rather less painful than it could be, although at 480i (still waiting for my component cables) the default text is an unreadable mush. You can zoom, making things legible, but you have to re-zoom on every page load. Hopefully this will be fixed in the final release.

All in all, I can’t wait for Mario Party 8, a bottle of rye, and someone to buy me enough remotes for a 4-way drunken orgy of ridiculousness.