Geek update of the week

Sorry if posting’s been a bit on the lean side recently, I’ve been, shall we say, rather busy. So here’s the past two weeks in summary…

  • We got kittens, we got kittens, we got kittens! I’ve been spending nearly every evening entertaining them myself while teasing them with a silly stick with a green feather at the end.
  • I went to Paris for a very interesting Mobile Monday event, where Bob presented Taptu to the French and Zazie serenaded everyone.
  • I bought an iPhone. Yup. I was at the Cambridge O2 store on launch day. There was a big queue of like… 20 of us. Not a huge hit with the plebs, but I’m absolutely in love with it.
  • I went to the Future of Mobile conference, saw the usual suspects and met some new people while seeing Powerpoint slides being blown up bigger than ever before.
  • We’ve put our house on the market and have put an offer in on a bigger house just down the road. Comes with it, some serious tidying of the house in order to make it vaguely presentable to potential buyers!
  • Did I mention I got some kittens?

Right well… Good night my lovelies!

Top 10 useful apps for Mac newbies

A week ago, Leopard, the latest version of OS X, the Apple Mac operating system, was released. I already thought that the rate at which my friends and acquaintances were deserting Windows for Mac was high back when Vista came out, warts and all. I knew nothing. It’s less of a trickle nowadays, and more of a thundering tsunami wave heading Mac’s way!

Since I haven’t had the opportunity to really sit down with these friends lately, I thought the least I could do as a faithful disciple of Apple was to share my list of top 10 useful applications, which I consider to be must-haves when using a Mac. They vary between productivity apps, cool alternatives to overpriced professional products like Adobe’s and just outright fun stuff.

  1. Quicksilver: No Mac is complete without Quicksilver, in my opinion. The main feature I use is the quick launcher – create your own keyboard shortcut from which you can call up any application or file without going into the app folder. Leopard’s Spotlight can now do that, but if you’re patient with Quicksilver, you’ll realise it does a whole lot more than just quicklaunch…
  2. Skitch: Hands down THE best quick-fix image resizer, editor and uploader. Completely intuitive to use, you’ll get from zero to LOLCat in 4 seconds!
  3. Pixelmator: For slightly fancier image editing than what Skitch allows, Pixelmator might be the perfect solution for those of us who get a rash from using Photoshop. It’s $59 for a license but it’ll probably do everything you and I need.
  4. Adium: Stick MSN Messenger, GTalk, ICQ, Yahoo! Chat and whatever else tickles your fancy from a single client. Less clutter is good.
  5. Flickr uploader: Pretty straightforward app – put pictures in, tag images, upload to Flickr. Simple, quick, fuss-free. Oh and free too.
  6. Parallels: This is a necessity more than anything, but Parallels allows those new to Mac to still access their Windows apps, and gives web designers/developers a way to check their sites in Internet Exploder.
  7. TaskPaper, OmniOutliner Pro, OmniFocus: I know I’m cheating here, but I didn’t want to drag on too much about GTD and productivity apps, because they’re not to everyone’s taste. However, if you’re looking for a friendly OS X GTD app, try one of the above, ranging from utterly simple – TaskPaper – to complex and complete with OmniOutliner and OmniFocus. TaskPaper certainly does the job for me, with contexts, projects and archiving of done items. Simple and practical. Have a play and let me know what you think!
  8. Unison: If you need a Usenet reader, Unison does the job wonderfully well. Produced by the great team at Panic, it’s priced at $24.95, but comes with a 15 day trial.
  9. Coda: I don’t personally use this one, but seems to come as a consensus from most web developers I know who are Mac users. Another Panic app, it’s priced at $79 and probably also comes with a trial period.
  10. iStat Menus: If you’re keen to know how much memory is being used, how much network activity you’re racking up, etc, you’ll like this app. You can put the most essential pieces of info directly in your toolbar, editing settings from within the Systems Preferences. iStat Menus is donationware.
  11. Bonus! Activity Monitor: Now this one might seem strange, seeing as it’s a utility that is already part of OS X, as opposed to a 3rd party download. However, too few people are aware that the tool is there. When your machine whirs itself into a frenzy and you can’t work out why, open Activity Monitor – or leave it running in the background as I often do – and find out which application is guilty. If you use Firefox, it’ll often be the guilty party, I warn you.

Right well, this should get Tom and Darla started, shouldn’t it? 🙂

[Update 07/11/07: Andrew pointed out that Chris Pirillo totally outdid me with his post of Top 100 mac apps.]

So I thought I'd talked myself out of getting an iPhone

The iPhone Pros and Cons list

When the iPhone came out in the US, I was drooling at the thought of getting one myself. When the UK contract deals were announced, and I started hearing about the difficulties people were having as far as upgrading to 1.1.1 while keeping their hacks, I got cold feet. I convinced myself that while I’m entirely unhappy with my N95’s performance, the iPhone wasn’t the solution to my phone woes.

I listened to friends reminding me that the iPhone was so much more limited than S60 phones, and that I’d miss the freedom if I took the plunge. I heeded their warnings and thought I’d make a personal short (very short) list of my drop-dead minimum requirements for a phone and try to take a level-headed look at the situation. Cost issues aside, the iPhone meets all my requirements.

  1. Faster camera than on my current phone: Well, that’s not hard to beat… To take the picture above and transfer it to my computer, the N95 took a couple of minutes. So much for catching that popstar driving by or a friend’s silly face at the pub. They’ll have finished their pint and gone home before the camera wakes up. Of course, the camera isn’t as high-quality, but then if I want quality, I’ll take the Canon 350D along instead!
  2. Better battery life than on my current phone: Again, an easy box to tick. My N95, with relatively heavy use, died in just over two hours last Friday. About 30-45 minutes were spent using the Jaiku application, a few emails were checked and a few phone calls made. But TWO HOURS? I need to be confident that I can go out on my own, and still have a way to ring home if something goes wrong.
  3. Jaiku works fine: This one could be debated, seeing as there is no iPhone variant of Jaiku available at the moment. However, the m.jaiku.com version works fine, albeit without the flashiness of iPhone-specific sites. [Note: I used Jaiku more as an example rather than a specific must-have. Social network sites in general need to work well for me]
  4. WordPress admin area works – comment moderation in particular: While my blog doesn’t get masses of comments, I like to know I can moderate them as needed. I’ve only had a limited opportunity to play with my WordPress admin section, but everything seems to be in working order. Doubt I’ll ever do much actual blogging from my phone, but moderating, correcting and updating entries does matter to me.
  5. Comfortably does email and hitchlessly syncs with iCal: No question there, box totally ticked.
  6. Painless upload of pics to Flickr: That’s one area where I have to admit the N95 does a fantastic job – if a bit slowly. The integrated Flickr uploader is one of my current phone’s best features, and I use it nearly daily. As I currently understand it, the iPhone would require me to email the photo over to Flickr, rather than do a web upload, but I can cope with that.

Conclusion: I want one. I really do.

I’m thankful that I don’t live in Canada anymore, as the contract with Rogers is a three year one, which is pants-on-head retarded and batshit insane, to put it simply. A three year contract is like… being married! And god knows I have no interest in marrying either Rogers, AT&T, or O2 in the UK for that matter.

So aside from the price issue – O2’s contracts aren’t exactly a bargain – the iPhone meets my requirements. I’m damn tempted to get one but I’m currently tied into a T-Mobile contract, so headaches ahead if I want to move my phone number over.

Ugh, it’s a hard life being such a gadget whore sometimes…

Cracked MacBook problem solved

I’m an Apple addict, there’s no denying it. Twenty years of using Macs and still going strong. And usually, I couldn’t be happier with what I buy and have rarely had any problems.

Cracked MacBook closeupBut on Tuesday, when you looked at me, all you could see was a sad Mac face, because my white MacBook was cracked where my right wrist sits on the top deck and clearly needed to be fixed. I read about others with the same problem, thinking my laptop was over a year old and no longer under warranty, I started to think of how expensive or lengthy the replacement process might get.

Thankfully, Andrew snapped me back into reality by saying our laptops still were under warranty. So I promptly called Apple Customer Care to arrange a repair under warranty. The first call didn’t sound too promising – I went through to an Indian (?) call centre where the quality of the phone line was so poor and crackly, I had to shout my MacBook’s serial number six times, with Andrew giggling increasingly with every “E for Echo, L for Lima!”

I ended up calling it quits and calling the Bluewater shopping centre’s Apple store directly to ask whether they’d have the part in stock if I came by on Saturday. No promises were made regarding stock, but by Thursday morning 9:01am, I had a Genius Bar appointment booked for this morning.

Showed up at the store before opening, spoke to a really nice guy who took my laptop in, saying it could be a few days, even up to 10 days, if they didn’t have the part in stock. Feeling slightly distressed and anxious, I left the store.

We shopped a little, we watched Yo Sushi chefs work like ants on preparing for lunchtime, and then we ate a few plates of sushi each. Still feeling bummed out about leaving my laptop behind, we popped by Virgin Megastore, thinking we might find a suitable movie for the evening. (Random trivia: I nearly bought Breakfast at Tiffany’s for a fiver, I’ve yet to see that movie, you know… Celia would kill me if she knew!)

While in the store, my phone rang, but I didn’t recognise the number and let it go to answerphone. Promptly checked the voicemail – while thinking I really need SpinVox voicemail-to-SMS – and nearly choked. It was the girl from Apple telling me my laptop was ready!! We nearly ran back to the store to get it, then went home feeling wholly satisfied with our day.

One morning is all it took for my MacBook to get sorted out! They not only replaced the plastic trim around the keyboard, but also replaced the entire keyboard and trackpad, as it comes out as one piece. Andrew reckons they’ve also changed the screen surround but I’m less convinced.

It cost us a morning’s trip to Bluewater, but would have been £142 out of warranty. You know what, I think I’m going to get extended warranty for it. My laptop’s far too important to be allowed to go wrong ever.

So thanks Bluewater Apple store, your speedy, quality work is appreciated!

To be a Mac user or not to be. That is the question.

Apple imageBoth Andrew and I are used to having friends, acquaintances and outright strangers asking us for advice on buying their next computer. However, in recent months, I’ve been amazed at the sheer volume of people who have been asking whether they should switch to Mac.

In many cases, the answer is an easy one: “Most definitely! Get your skates on, let’s go buy one now!” But despite the fact that I have Apple juice running in my veins and that if you gave me open heart surgery, I most likely have a Mac Mini instead of a heart, I still strongly believe that Mac isn’t for everyone. In some conditions, OS X just isn’t right.

So here are the questions I think anyone on the fence about switching to Mac should ask themselves before giving Steve Jobs their credit card details…

1. Do I use any particular Windows-only software on a regular basis?

  • If your answer is yes, then look into Mac alternatives. The best solution isn’t always necessarily an OS X port of your fave Windows apps. In fact, it most likely isn’t. There are tons of great Mac apps out there.
  • Can’t find an alternative? You can always run the app in BootCamp or Parallels on your Mac, and this will suit almost anyone.
  • Still not sold on this solution? Then this is where you should probably stick to Windoze.
  • Don’t need any Windows software? Attaboy!

2. Do I have anything to worry about compatibility-wise?

In 99% of cases, no you don’t. However, if you use very specialised software, again, do your homework before the Big Move.

3. Will it take me time to get used to the difference in user interface?

Yes, it will. There’s no way around it.

It takes some time to get used to a new way of doing things. You’ll need to think differently, far beyond simply going to the other corner of Firefox to close a window. Shortcuts are different. The way installs and uninstalls are handled is different. Using the hardware itself is different: For example, with a Mac laptop, you’ll hardly ever need to turn it off, as shutting the lid sends it to sleep so comfortably that I only turned mine off once since Christmas, and rebooted a handful of times for updates.

You’ll also need to get used to… things just… working! Plug a peripheral in and it works. Add a printer to the network and there it is. Your stress levels will definitely go down.

It’s a complete mentality shift and it will take time to adapt. So give yourself time, have patience and be ready to relearn. Once you get up to speed, you WILL love it, I promise!

This is one of many reasons that, for example, we didn’t encourage Andrew’s parents to move to Mac. Their use of computers is pretty simple: browsing, email, photo management. They know their way around these features in Windows. There was simply no benefit in shifting them into a whole new environment.

4. Will it cost me a lot more than a Windows machine?

Actually, it probably won’t. Sure you can buy Dell’s loss leader at £395 and be sorted for a few years. But if you need to spec up your Windows machine to a similar level to what’s the bare minimum offered on Mac, you’ll find that the prices are similar.

This can be argued, and I’m sure my smart ass friends will come disagree with me on this point, but as far as personal research goes, that’s my observation.

5. Will I get special treatment and a secret handshake?

No. That’s fanboy nonsense.

Ten years ago, meeting another Mac user was a revelation and a bit of a dirty secret. I certainly didn’t know any other Mac users my age. They were all middle aged men, usually my dad or grandpa’s acquaintances.

Today, well… Show up at a conference and count the laptops. Odds are a vast number of them will be Macs. In fact, somewhere between 15 and 20% of all laptops bought in the US since March are Macs. It doesn’t get a second look anymore, and in a way that’s good.

Hopefully that’ll send the fanboys away to play with a different new shiny toy. Hopefully…

6. Am I doing it just because all the other cool kids are doing it?

Yes? Then piss off, I have no interest in giving you support. 😛

In summary, Macs are probably a good solution for Chantal, a graduating student who’s living space is limited and who wants a fast, reliable machine. It’s also a great solution for my dad who’s still living in the 90’s using OS 9.2 (that’s a hint, dad! 😉 ) but it might not be the best solution for, say, my sis-in-law Lisa who just wants a bog-basic laptop to use a couple of times a week to check email.

To each their own, pick whatever you feel most comfortable with!

One last piece of advice. Oi! Here! Pay attention or it’ll cost you!

The new OS X operating system, called Leopard, is coming out within the next three or four weeks, so my advice is to wait until it comes out to buy a new Mac, to ensure you get the latest OS.

[Update: Leopard came out in late October, and it’s fantastic. So go ahead and upgrade now if you’re ready!]

IPod nano red on order!

iPod nano red on orderDo I really even need to say it? Or does the picture on the right and my empty wallet say it all?

Yes, I’ve given in, I’ve got a red iPod nano on order. In my defense, it’s my birthday on the 19th so it’s my pressie. And it’s the “good cause” iPod too. I’m helping fight AIDS in Africa by giving my money to Mr. Jobs.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the luxury of music in my pocket. My N95 is far too rubbish to be used for music, and while I have an old iPod Shuffle (the kind that looks like a USB key, not the slick tiny clippy one), I’ve never liked the shuffling concept.

So here it is, my first real iPod. It’s red. It’s lush. I can’t wait to get it! Shame it won’t arrive before I go to Finland and Russia next week though… :S

Tomorrow, the iPhone will change the world

On the eve of the launch of the iPhone in the US, I thought I’d finally come out clean with my views on it.

[Yes, I know you’re all sick to death of hearing about the iPhone, but bear with me; I’ve been quiet about it since the day it was announced, and even today, I haven’t completely made up my mind on how I feel about it, and I need to verbalise my thoughts.]

It’s going to be a shiny, sleek and unique gadget. It’s going to take the world by storm, and wallets by the throat. We’re all going to drool over it, have a flick at the screen and a poke at the SDK (well not me, but you know…) Oh and we’re going to hear about it for a few more bloody months…

I want to wish the iPhone into being as good as we all hope it will be, but I can’t help but have some reservations.

First, that’s one great big screen to try and protect. Don’t know about you, but my phone, my keys and my lipglosses often have happy little tea parties in the bottom of my handbag, and I’m not sure the iPhone would be keen on the company. Granted the plastic screen has been replaced with a tougher glass one, but even while protected in a big iPod sock-type-thing, it’s a big screen against which pressure can be applied by a not-so-careful owner.

Also, the battery life is bound to be pretty poor with such a screen to power, regardless of their claims (scroll down this article for the comparison). I already found Shitbrick* and my N95 to suck the life out of the battery something senseless the moment I used the web browser, so while they’ve upped the claimed battery life, I struggle to believe that it’ll really be that great.

But my main concern is really, honestly… just how long it’ll be before I can get my greasy mitts on an iPhone… Not necessarily OWN one, but have a good little play for a few days and decide whether we’re made for each other.

Until then, however, I’m thoroughly enjoying the company of my wonderful and versatile N95. *cradles N95 in her arms* Don’t worry you’re not going anywhere anytime soon, little thing! It’s lived up to expectations, and continued to amaze me. Will the iPhone also live up to expectations?

Well, I guess we’ll find out tomorrow morning, won’t we?

[* That’s the loving name I gave to my N70 after it started throwing a wobbly at random, telling me to “Close down applications. Running out of memory!” when nothing was open, then being too busy throwing that wobbly to let me calm it down. What a pile of crap, paperweight at best!]

The voodoo summary

The “Summary” feature of OS X really is like a work of voodoo. To use it, highlight some text in your favourite Cocoa app, like Mail, Safari or Camino, then go into the application’s Services menu and choose a level of summarisation (between 1 and 100% of original text length). In a few cases, the summarisation was eerily accurate and I don’t think I would’ve done any better.

This service receives little fanfare and is certainly one I’ll use more when I come across very long articles where I need to get the gist of it but haven’t got time to read it all at that very moment (where it makes its way into my del.icio.us bookmarks… and probably never gets read completely, hrmm)

So that’s my tip for the day!