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January 24, 2008

Another reason I like my Mac: it's QUIET

My Mac Mini may not be the most powerful computer I have in the house, but it has one huge virtue: it's quiet.  I love that.  

The earliest Mini's didn't have a fan.  This one has one, but it is amazingly quiet. 

Nice work.

January 17, 2008

I'm happy with my MacBook - no Air for me

My experience with the the Mac Mini I bought in October has made me a convert.  Even though I built a new AMD-based Windows system at the same time that's faster than my Mini, I like the Mac environment.  And for those Windows applications that I can't live without, VMWare Fusion works just fine.   So since October, the Mac has been my primary environment. 

I've never spent my own money for a laptop.  I work in IT, and since 1996, every company I've worked for has provided me a Windows laptop.  But it seemed unlikely that a company would buy me a Mac laptop.  So in December the bug bit me, and I bought a black MacBook. 

I was never really in the market for a sub-notebook, and the specs on the air don't attract me.  1.6 Ghz processor vs my 2.2.  2 gig of ram vs the 4 gig I put in mine.  (From Fry's - only $90 with rebates!)  No DVD.  80 gig 4200 RM drive vs my 160gb 5400.  Higher res screen on the Air - that's nice - but not worth the extra money.

The lower weight and sleekness isn't necessary for me.  The Macbook is already thinner and lighter than the other Windows laptops I've had.   I like it a lot.

November 12, 2007

Leopard's built-in VNC server doesn't quite work

Mac OS 10.5 has a VNC server built in to allow remote access back to your Mac.  Many sites have claimed that standard VNC clients will work with Mac OS VNC.

Well, that may be true for some people, but I haven't been able to connect  back to my Mac outside of my local network using Apple's built-in server. 

It worked fine from a Windows machine on the local network.  But outside my network - no go. I tried opening port 5900 across my Buffalo home router.  I tried RealVNC and TightVNC, both from a Windows XP system, and both would let me get to a password prompt, but then died promptly. I tried tunneling port 5900 across an SSH connection to my Mac. I tried squinting and chanting "Apple is my friend."  Nothing worked. 

My solution was to download the Vine Server VNC server from Redstone Software.  I configured it to use a different port to avoid conflicting with Apple VNC server.  Vine Server is free.

It works very well. Vine Server also pays attention to other VNC options that Apple's server doesn't - it will work with 8 bit color, for example, which is important for speeding up the connection. 

I also went in and turned off the Dock animations.  (I wish there was a way to do that automatically when logging in via VNC.)

It still doesn't work as nicely as Remote Desktop does for the PC, but it's a good start.

November 4, 2007

If Emacs is broken under under Leopard, time to reinstall

I bought a Mac Mini a few weeks back.  I bought it just one week shy of Apple's release of Leopard, knowing that I'd have to do the upgrade myself and pay an extra $10 for the DVD, but the siren call of pretty new hardware was too strong to resist.

I did the upgrade the Monday after Leopard came out - a straight in-place upgrade - and everything seemed to be fine. 

But all was not well.  Emacs was my canary in the coal mine; when I fired up a terminal and started emacs, I got the cryptic message " Fatal malloc_jumpstart() error"

This discussion convinced me that something broke doing the Leopard upgrade in place, so I went back and reinstalled Leopard using the archive and install method.  Problem solved.

October 30, 2007

I like my iPhone a heck of a lot better than the Treo

I carried a Treo 650 for perhaps 2 years.  When I first got it, I was pleased to have a true smart phone for a change.  I liked the Palm OS side of it - the calendar and to-do features, the third party apps.  But as a phone or network device, the Treo was frustrating.  The Treo had a quite nasty habit of freezing when I went to answer a phone call.  Not a good thing for a phone to do.  The Treo had a web browser, but using it was frustrating - too slow, and too many pages that didn't display properly.

When I left EarthLink, I knew I wanted a smart phone.  I briefly considered a Helio Ocean, but user reviews were lukewarm. 

Then Apple dropped the price of the iPhone from $599 to $399.  I went out and bought an iPhone the same day.

I like my iPhone a lot.  Web browsing and email are good.  The EDGE network is slow, but in metro Atlanta, web browsing is at least acceptable.  Calendar support is weak, but good enough for what I need right now.   But on the intangibles - the fit and feel - the iPhone is very good.  I like carrying it around.

My chief complaint is that the speaker isn't loud enough.  If the iPhone is in another room when it rings, I often don't hear it.  The same is even true if I have it on me and I'm in a noisy place.  I'm sure Apple's target audience has better hearing than me!

The other thing I miss is having an IM client.  I'm waiting for those Apple-sanctioned third party applications ...

October 29, 2007

A mac owner again, 20 years later

Last week I gave into temptation.  I'm now the owner of a bottom-of-the-line Mac Mini - the 1.83 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo model.  80 gig disk, 1 gig of RAM.

I couldn't stand the idea of paying Apple $150 for one more gig of memory, so instead I spent at least that much and time and energy by getting 2 gig of RAM from Fry's and installing it myself.  Jonathan Young supplied the putty knife and the company.

It's the second Apple device I bought in the last 2 months.   When I left EarthLink (company-wide layoff) in September, I needed a cell phone, and Apple was kind enough to cut the price by $200, so I bought a phone that day.

It's not the first Mac for me, though.   We bought a Mac SE in '86 or '87 for Jen to finish her PhD thesis.  I played with a first generation iMac when I was at CNN in about 2000, and I had a first generation Mac Mini on loan from EarthLink for a couple of months.  Both of those machines were just too underpowered compared to the PCs I was using.  My new Intel Mac is on the lowest rung of the Mac line, but hardware has improved enough that even the  Mini easily trumps my Intel 3.0Ghz P4 Windows system.    

I'm pleased.  The Mini is low end hardware - built in integrated graphics, 5400 RPM hard drive.  It comes with built-in Bluetooth (which cost extra on the original Mini), WiFi,  4 USB ports and a Fireware 400 port.   But especially with 2 gig of RAM, that's plenty to make a system that works very nicely indeed. 

Even better, I've been playing with a copy of VMWare Fusion, and it runs Windows XP well enough to handle the PC applications I'd like to run.

If this were my only system, I'd like something with more power.  But for everyday use, it's fast enough, and the polish of OS X makes it all the better.


March 12, 2005

Back into the Mac fold?

In the world of personal computers, I was a Mac person before I was anything. We bought a Mac SE in 1987 for Jen to finish her PhD, and I actively avoided PCs until I went to work for CICNet in 1990.

The next machine we bought for ourselves was a Gateway Pentium 133 in 1996; Macs were too expensive, and I'd had a work PC at home while I worked at CICNet, so I already had software and files in the PC world.

Jen had a iMac at home for a few years while she worked at Georgia Tech, but it was running OS 9, and was underpowered.

And then I an DV iMac for a year or so while I worked at CNN. I installed OS X on it, but it didn't have enough memory, and was pretty much a toy.

But lately I've started hearing about a number of interesting pieces of software that exist only on the Mac. Quicksilver is one; another one is DEVONthink, mentioned in a wonderful essay by Steven Johnson

And the recent introduction of the Mac Mini has started to kindle my curiosity for the Mac world again.

Well, thanks to a wonderfully innovative program by the Office of the CTO at EarthLink, where I work, I'm getting a chance to rediscover the world of the Mac.

The CTO's Office at EarthLink had a wonderfully simple but brilliant idea: we're a high tech company, and we live or die by trying to get good products to consumers before our competitors do. Some of the most interesting ideas and products in the consumer space are being put out by Apple. Exposure to good design, good products, is good inspiration for employees. Put those together with the recent Mac Mini, and the result is a loaner program: tell the CTO's office why you'd like to have a Mac Mini for a while, and they'll get you one (or put you on the list.)

So Thursday was like a mini-Christmas, except that Santa was a man without a beard carrying a very small box.

I got the lower-end Mac Mini - the 1.2Ghz model, 40 gig drive, 512 mb of memory. (1Gb would be better, of course, but that's pretty expensive.) They did spring for the Airport Extreme and Bluetooth options. They threw in an iSight video camera, an Apple keyboard, and a Bluetooth wireless mouse.

I’ve got two PCs in my office – a 2.4Ghz Dell P4 - my main machine, and a Dell P4 laptop – but only one monitor (and a single input monitor at that.) So I took the monitor off the Dell desktop, and have decided to try to live mostly on the Mac for work. I’ve only been at it one day, but so far, it’s very interesting. More on my first impressions later.