Road to Mac VI: The infection is spreading

2006/08/28

See also Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V

This Mac thing seems to be quite contagious. Gabo started to seriously considering buying the MacBook, after listening to my happy stories about Great Mac Discoveries. Even Vlad, right now living trough his latest love-affair with Ubuntu Linux was deeply impressed with OS-X after we seeing Expose, Spotlight, PhotoBooth and iPhoto in action.

Next day, after I arrived to the office in the morning, Gabo was already there. Which is not unusual. Since his little son and wife are back, they get up quite early in the morning and Gabo usually beats me to arrive first to work. He lives only 5 minutes away anyway …

So this morning he was there, sitting with sort of different look on his face and started with very unexpected question:
“What is different about me this morning” ?

I am checking – the mustache is in place … no hair color change (at least not that I would notice …). Trying to think about the clothing is hopeless – I never pay any attention to who wears what. Not even with women … And why the heck does he ask such crazy question at all ? Is he OK ?

But he continues: “How do I look today ?” ?

When I stare at him, and before I can say anything, he finally resolves the mystery:

“Do I look like somebody who ordered a MacBook” ?

Now that is a news. It took me well over 3 months to make the decision. It took Gabo about 2 weeks (and few days with my Macbook).

And the best of all was Vlad’s comment:

“You guys are dangerous ! I am now really in trouble – I want one too !”


Road to Mac V: Feeling happy

2006/08/26

See also Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV
August 13th

I have discovered wonderful thing today. I was experimenting with my PocketPC (Toshiba e830) and switched on Bluetooth. Mac discovered the device OK – all I had to do was to follow the wizard Setup Bluetooth device, under Bluetooth menulet (the strange B icon upper right). I have entered the code Mac suggested on PPC and they new about each other. What was really cool was that I found out how to access files on that device … but let’s step back a moment.

This was not my first attempt to use Bluetooth. On Thursday, when I had the Macbbok at work, and during lunchbreak, we have tried out to pair my RAZR phone with the Mac. It paired OK, but I was not able to see anything. What I was expecting was that the RAZR would somehow automagically show up in Finder or in Network – but it did not. Neither did the Toshiba, by the way.

What I did today differently was that I tried Browse Device from the Bluetooth menu. And there it was – I saw the subtree of the PocketPC, everything under ‘My Documents’. I managed to transfer files both ways like a charm.

Now I realized – maybe I can do the same with RAZR. And indeed I could. Selecting Browse actually starts the application ‘Bluetooth File Exchange’. The only trick with RAZR is to know where to look. It has 4 folders from the root:

• MMC(Removable)
• audio
• picture
• video

but the audio, picture and video are empty. You have to go into MMC, and there are another folders iTunes and mobile and the right place where to look for the images is in /MMC(Removable)/mobile/picture. I have created folder ‘Photo from Phone’ in documents, copied them there and imported with iPhoto. The added benefit is that the USB connection with my Fujitsu was always very very slow and unreliable – likely because of the RAZR issues. Using Bluetooth I can now copy images much faster, even if BT is not generally a speed devil 😉

Cool, isn’t it ?

Now I have another motivation why to clean up the mess on my pocket PC ‘My Documents’ – it seems to be useful extension of my Mac for off-line data entry …

I got setting up other communication channels than Bluetooth as well. After configuring Mail and sending few test emails, I installed Thunderbird + downloaded emails from GMail. Using Adium we had first chat on MSN with Gabo. Audium is very nice and unlike MSN Messenger, you can access several IM networks at the same time, like MSN, Yahoo, AIM, Jabber – to name just a few. Unfortunately, the voice support for MSN is not available incurrent version.

I also installed Skype . Works wonderfully, using just the build in microphone and speakers. Virtually no problems with echo. What is even better is to install Skype Beta with Video preview. That works perfectly with built-in inSight camera and you can have video conference with sound without any cables or peripherals sticking out, just with the Macbook, out of the box hardware.

I have finished reading Switching to Mac on Safari. It was worthwhile investment of time and energy. After overcoming basic teething problems, I must say I feel very comfortable in Mac environment. I really like the keyboard and instantaneous connectivity after waking up from sleep. The network connection is considerably more stable than on PC notebooks. I work a lot in Starbucks during evening and weekends. The battery life is very good – I can get from 3.5 to 4.5 hours (with WiFi off, depending on CPU load and brightness of the screen).

It is about time to start work on blogging. I have tested few offline blog client: Journler, ecto and Qumana. Journler seem to be nice journal program, perfectly suited for keeping private journal and daily log, with some blogging capabilities. Ecto is on the other hand primarily blog editor. What I still lack is better understanding and experience with blog platforms. For the beginning, I want to go with free hosting on some of the popular sites. I plan to to start evaluation with Blogger , then test out WordPress and eventually Livejournal .

After I do this, I will post these “back-blogs“, until now kept in pieces within various off-line tools: started with Journler, and continued with Writeroom and ecto. I really like Writeroom, but it does not let me insert links into text (unlike ecto). Interesting alternative to ecto is using Writely – new online editor owned by Google. It is now open for public registration and allows collaboration: you can ask extends access to any of your documents to selected people and collaborate. This seems to be the best option for processing the text initially drafted in Writeroom – for adding links, you need on-line connectivity anyway.


Road to Mac IV: Getting accustomed

2006/08/25

See also Part I, Part II and Part III

August 10th

That Spotlight thing is just freaking fantastic :-). After few days of work, accumulating some files, emails etc, just for fun I typed Gabo’s last name to Command-Space search box. I did not even finish typing and first results were coming in the result list: all emails exchanged with Gabo, saved chats, text documents and as “best hit” Gabo’s contact card. Which was exactly right.

So what is so great on Spotlight ? What makes it any better than Google desktop or MS Search ? I cannot speak for MS Search, as I have not tested it, but I tried Google Desktop search on two different computers. What I liked on Google search was the extensibility – with custom plugins I was able to index almost every file format I was using. The only notable exception were old email archives in TheBat! format – anybody has a suggestion?. What I did not like was the price paid for all this. Not the $$, Google desktop is of course free. The price was very noticeable slowdown of the system. I even had to uninstall it from notebook, because it became unbearable slow.

Here is my speculation why there is such difference in user experience: Google desktop is an add-on, not part of the OS and to find out which files were changed (and must be re-indexed) is has to crawl the filesystem to discover the changes. Spotlight on the other hand, is “well connected” and part of OS, it just sits idle, hooked to system notifications on file update system call and basically just handles events, never even looking on anything but changed files. With this aproach, the more files are on system, the bigger is Spotlight’s advantage. Difference in file system speed very likely also helps Spotlight. This is very subjective and I have never done any benchmarks, but whenever I was dealing with large directories (10000+ files) on Unix/Linux vs. on Windows systems (of comparable hardware parameters like RAM, CPU, disk size/speed), Linux systems always felt much faster and more responsive thank Windows. Yes, I know that 10000 files in single directory is crazy idea, but it changes nothing on the fact that Linux handled it better.

Spotlight was forced to do some heavy lifting after I copied some PDF and CHM files from network to local disk. “Some” is a bit understatement as it was about 30 GB of content. After that, you could tell that something is going on. The slowdown was hardly in the same league as Google did to my other notebook, but it was observable – the CPU load as well as the disk activity in Activity monitor was considerably higher and the machine felt warmer. Processing the 30 GB took about 4 hours.

Unlike Windows, Mac does not depend on Adobe Reader to open PDF file. PDF is handled natively, without any third party software, for both reading and writing. The Print dialog offers “Save as PDF” option for everything. I was little bit worried how will Preview handle the protected PDF’s I have purchased from APress. But they worked OK and looked so much better in Preview than in any reader on the PC. Why is it so ? Is it the fonts ? Or the screen ? Either way, avoiding Adobe Reader also on Mac is a great news. On Windows, I switched to Foxit Reader while ago(which does not need 25 second to just to start 😉

Installing software on Mac turned out to be very simple and pleasant experience. Starting point is binary file with extension DMG (disk image). On doubleclick, Finder opens it, verifies content and mounts it as new disk – same way as you would mount a network drive or to see a newly inserted data DVD. After you open the disk, you see one or more icons. The whole install is drag and drop the to Applications folder and you are done. Uninstalling means dragging the icon to the trash. No installer formats to worry about (“is it MSI 1.0 or 2.0 ?”) or installing the installer before you install the application. What happens behind the scene is quite interesting. The single icon you are dragging/dropping, is in reality a folder, with application-specific structure underneath. You can even see it, by right-click (or ctrl-click) on the installed application and selecting “Show package content”. Application stores everything that is user specific under ~/Library directory, as ordinary files – so no registry is involved (and therefore nothing can get corrupted).

I started my installation marathon with text editor: Smultron with yummy icon. It is much more programmer’s editor than the TextEdit . It helped me for several days as my main editor, until I discovered WriteRoom (see below). I tried and removed two TotalCommander replacements: – MadCommander free tool written in Java and Disk Order (30 day eval version). The first one just did not felt right. Disk Order was OK but I found excellent free equivalent – Xfolders. The more I get familiar with the Finder though, the less I think I will need it anyway.

I also installed excellent CHM reader CHMox so I can read all my CHM books from Windows. Do not know why, but even MSDN in CHM format looks so much better and more readable on Mac … I also installed SeaShore (image editor, which I do not use much), and Firefox with some of my favorite plugins: (Scrapbook, Linky, Delicious, Web Developer, DownThemAll and SessionSaver). I found out that Safari as browser is quite nice and so far I am using both of them. It is convenient for simulating two different logins to same Web site from same machine.

The most interesting find was probably simplest as far as functionality goes. It is – writeroom – “clean” editor. What I like about Writeroom is the concept. It is a channel between the your brain and the computer file. Writeroom presents very minimalist typing environment. It has no rich text capabilities, you just select single, aesthetically pleasing font and that’s it. If you want, you switch it (with ESC) into full screen mode, where it hides everything and presents one large document area with no menu’s, controls, windows or anything that would ask for attention or dilute your concentration. It is just you and the keyboard. Strangely enough, it helps. It really makes easier to keep your thoughts focused on the topic, the tasks ahead and very successfully fights the urge to open this file, click on that or (just for one minute…), open just received email, answer that bouncing icon in the dock or try out out that new program from the Utilies I have no idea what it does ;-).

Where does Writeroom store the text I am typing ? It never asks for any file name or anything. It quietly creates and manages writerooms – some sort of persistent buffers, named by the first sentence in them and keeps them (likely) in the Library – user specific section of the application program. It is very convenient but it takes some time to mentally adjust to it. Not being able to see where your stuff is saved (and verify that it is actually saved) is very disconcerting situation for a WG (windows guy). In Windows, everything is file centric and you almost always know where your stuff goes. You have to, as for many years working with Windows 3.x and 9x, you have learned that the operating system may explode and die any moment, so your left hand does automatically that unconscientious “Ctrl-S” movement every few minutes or even more often. In fact, I am still doing the same – only it does not work. Instead of Ctrl-S the secret combination is now Command-S (alias Apple alias Pretzel key – S). Yep, I did it again ;-).

Today, in the evening at Starbucks, I have experienced first “freeze” of the OS-X. I was copying some files from both USB drive as well as from my desktop at home, then I just closed the lid and left home. In Chapters, I noted that HERMES is still hanging in there and tried to “eject” it out. That was a mistake. It took about 2 minutes to recover (likely waiting some network operations to time out). The machine was not cold-frozen, but quite slow to react. I probably made it even worse when started panicking and clicking around, switching the network on and off, trying to call Expose and so on ….

Fortunately, it all came back nicely, without ugly measures (like reboot). Lesson learned: it is good idea to “eject” the network drive before going away – or at least, do not touch it while working offline.


Road to Mac III: The Culture Shock

2006/08/24

See also Part I and Part II

August 3rd

This is my second day with Mac, writing in TextEdit as I have not installed any other editor (yet). Still learning, do not want to install lot of junk before I find out proper ways how to do things. Time to learn how things are in the Brave New World ….

First surprises and unexpected culture shocks: How do I get around ? Let’s have a look what is on the disk. So where are my disks ? Where is My Computer icon ? How do I see the content of the Disk C: (oops, I forgot – there is no disk C:, this is Unix !). Somebody please get me back my Total Commander … Even the braindead Windows Explorer (which I never use on Windows because TotalCommander is sooo much better) would help.

At the first look, the whole windowing and menu concept is weird. I am just not used to watch up (to the top of the screen) to see which application is running. It is especially confusing, when I have no windows open. Why does the application does not end when I close all windows ? It just hangs there and unless you note the menu up there, you will miss it.

Also the “dock” concept is quite alien. Dock is a strange cross of the start menu shortcuts and Windows dock. You see both the applications that are running and those who are not running, distinguished only by tiny (for eyes of a Windoze user quite unsignificant) black triangle. And to make things even worse, from the right side of the dock, there are some minimized windows. Complete chaos! You click on an application with the black rectangle (the running application) – and nothing happens. One would expect a window popping up or something …. Did the application hang or what ? You start to fear that the whole system freezes and the screen goes blue … and then you realize this should not happen (or at least it would not be the good old BSOtD ). After closer examining the very top of the screen you find out that something did happen – there is name of the application out there, but still no windows whatsoever. How can it be ?

Even your buttons seems all wrong. You see familiar Control and Alt (dubbed as Option) but what is the pretzel key for ? And what exactly is Fn button for – is it just usual laptop thing (to make up for the missing numerical keypad etc) or is it fourth modification button ? To add frustration to the confusion, you quickly realize that the is Control not Control. Pretzel is the real Control button – because Save shortcut is Pretzel-S, not Control-S. Actually, not quite: sometimes the Option key is the control – try for example skipping in text line by word left and write: the Control-Left/Right (now I mean the Apple ctrl, not Windows Ctrl) takes you to the beginning and end of the screen. To move one word left or right, you have to use option-left/right. Oh gosh, this will be even even worse as when I was learning Emacs in 1998, I guess. On the other hand, Emacs will be really easy now <grin/>.

In addition of feeling lost, there are also some wonderful discoveries. I quickly learn to love F9 and F10. F9 quickly rearranges all open windows on the screen and allows to select one. F10 does same thing within windows belonging to one application. Now I know where the same feature in Vista comes from ;-). Alt-Tab still works, only it is not Alt-Tab but Pretzel-Tab. Plus we have Pretzel-~.

I guess it’s time to start learn how to survive in this strange new world. I start Safari (the browser), go to Safari (the O’Reilly On Line books) and find the “Switching to Mac, Tiger edition”. Time to tame the Tiger…

After some reading and mental adjustments, thing start to make sense. I learned that the correct name for pretzel key is Command – which reminds me to old Linux time when I was fluent in Emacs and had to translate the other way ;-). I even dare to open System preferences and start customizing few things.

I tried the “magnifying” dock buttons but found it very disturbing, so I have switched them back off. I really like the “menulets”. Nicely done for the battery, network, bluetooth, time. From the book, I learned how to add the Eject menulet.

I slowly work through the basics and start to be accustommed to different way how to do things. One huge jump in my productivity was when I decided that it is time stop fooling around with the trackball and get the mouse. There is nothing wrong with the Macbook’s trackpad – I managed to get the “click” emulation with knocking pretty quickly. It is actually probably one of the best trackpads I ever worked with – just try using two fingers for scrolling – it is insanely cool and practical. It is just that holding Ctrl whenever I need right click does not suit me and doing drag and drops without mouse sucks, regardless of the platform – period.

I was contemplating of getting the original – Mighty Mouse – but could not decide whether to go for classical version or newly introduced and more expensive wireless version. I was not sure what is the battery life, how it behaves – nobody from Google search results had any meaningful practical review. People were generally positive about the classical Might Mouse, but from the few cases I tried it out in Compusmart or Bestbuy, I was just not convinced. It just did not fit right into my hands, formed by by long years of using Microsoft and Logitech mice. So I postponed the buying decision – and I am glad I did.

In Futureshop I saw the bluetooth version of the same wireless USB mouse I use for almost 2 years with my Fujitsu. It is small, has very good battery life (1-2 months) and feels just right. Few days later I have got confirmation of this mouse gut feeling from real Mac authority – Leo Laporte – in MacBreak (watch it here).

Spent a lot of time playing with built-in camera. The Photo-booth is endless fun, my daughter loves it ! But let’s try to do some of the cool multimedia stuff the Mac Guy was saying they are so easy – let’s make a movie ! So let’s download some MPEG’s from my camera and burn them …

Well, not so fast. First thing I learn is that my MPEG’s are not recognized by neither Quicktime, not iMovie – here is why. It costs me $20 USD to get the plugin that can read the MPEG2. Now the iMovie understands the clips – unfortunately, there is no sounds. To get sound, I need to do some conversion from MPEG2 produced by Sony. I am luckier this time, for I can use this opensource tool. Wide variety of opensource software for Mac is a nice surprise. I can find lots of interesting links on the Web – for example here and here. After playing with all that multimedia stuff for few hours, I almost get to the point of having some sequence of scenes that start to resemble a movie. Working with iMovie is very time consuming activity and as it is almost 3 AM, I decide to postpone my first movie until

  1. I get at least some understanding of all that jazz around video formats, codecs, MPEGx differences ,
  2. I have chance to go through some basic iMovie tutorial (as I am barely just scratching a surface),
  3. I feel at least a little bit at home with basic Mac skills so that I do not have to fight with essential things and finally
  4. I will have some clearer idea about the content of the movie (like some sort of script)

Road to Mac II: I’ve got a Macbook !

2006/08/23

See part I


July 25th – August 2nd

After ordering, I received two emails from Apple, confirming the order. It took 3 days until the order finally got shipped from China (where else, of course) on Friday, July 28th and the estimate for delivery was 5-8 business days. I have received the tracking number and was able to track how my Macbook was moving around the globe: starting from Shizou, China on 28th, arriving to USA, Anchorage, Alaska one day later. One more day and it showed up in Memphis, Tennessee. That was on July 30th. It seemed to stuck there for over 2 days and then, without any interim stops it showed up on August 2nd in Ottawa Fedex location. I have just arrived to customer place in the morning and saw the news on Fedex Tracking page (dutifully bookmarked and checked every few hours )…

In two hours, it was delivered. So the “birthday” and timestamp for the beginning of my Mac experience is the August 2nd, at about 9:50 Eastern Standard time. Fortunately, at that day I had arrived to work at 7 AM so I was able to finish everything I had planned for the day and leave relatively early. At about 4:30 PM back at home I started to unpack the package. I did it really slowly, enjoying it a lot and throughly documenting ever step with my D70. This was first time that I have ordered anything else than books and tickets from the Web – so it was a kind of “leap of faith” to pay around $2000 to company who will ship the thing from different side of the globe. Maybe I was suspecting that something could be broken, or something will not be as I ordered – but fortunately (as I found out in next hour), no surprises there. It was nice to find that this global ecommerce thing everybody talks about actually works 🙂

Being educated by various Windows products manuals “NEVER attach the disk before installing drivers” or “do NOT switch it on before doing X.Y.Z” I actually did not switch the notebook on before scanning the manual. Yep, you heard correctly: I actually did read the manual first <grin/>. I have to say that it was beautifully short, good looking and thoroughly understandable, without insulting reader’s intelligence. It was that type of manual, that even my mom (who never touched a computer) would probably understand how to start and what to do – if she spoke English, of course.

To charge the battery, I unpack and connect the power supply. This simple thing lies on the floor right next to my Fujitsu power supply and the difference could not be more revealing. The Fujitsu power supply is large, heavy, ugly brick, weighting about 4 times as much as as nice and small Apple white box. Not only that – note the small details: how the brick allows attach/detach either power cable or direct right-to-the-wall plug. The hidden collapsible “ears” that serve as holder for the thin computer power cable loops. And the nice small magnetic ending that can be plugged to the notebook either side up …

With all this done I dared to press the button and “bang” – off it went. The system booted (without Microsoft sound, but one would not really expect it). OS-X started, asked me few questions about country and language setting and myself and I was in.

First experience in four words: Looks just plain beautiful.

Second experience in three words: It just works !

Everything on the screen looked so nice, polished, with very smooth typography. I pressed by chance F12 and wow – I saw the Dashboard for the first time, with Weather widget configured to Ottawa and clock showing my local time … It must have got it from my address, I typed in when registering.

Note: as I discovered two weeks later, when comparing weather forecast from Weather Network with the one from Dashboard widget, it was different Ottawa which got configured by default: Ottawa in Kansas, USA rather than Ottawa, Canada . Now this is really confusing: not only these cities have same name, they even have both university with almost identical name: see the real one (University of Ottawa) and the Ottawa University in Kansas. Obviously, the setup picked the first Ottawa it found and did not bother compare the country. I changed the city in the widget and got the temperature down to real values.

I even dared to switch on the Airport (aka wireless card) right away. I was expecting to have to set the security protocol and experience same issues as few years ago when I started to use wireless router: during setup, you need to select from different settings none of which is really explained (like WEP, WPA, WPA-PSK). After you spend some time surfing the web and reading, you’ll find out what these acronyms actualy represent. But if all you want is to get secure wireless connection quickly, you do not really care about the differences between these standards. Fortunately, Macbook figured it out without troubling the user with too many details. It saw my home network right away, just asked for network password and again – it just worked. What a relief. On the other hand, I do not know what I could do if it did not work, not having any parameters to set. Probably I would have to Google a lot, then go down to the depths of command line and Unix commands I never knew they exist …

The wireless also seems to be way more stable with Mac than with my Windows based notebooks (both Fujitsu and tablet). But to be fair – my experiences of instability are from last two years and I have replaced the router recently. Instead old WRT54G, Yan brought home some Dlink router with pre-N capabilities (which I do not need and do not use) and range boost (which I do need and enjoy !). The new router is more stable but I have already seen few “Could not connect to preferred wireless network” messages in the morning on both Windows macgines and weird connection delays (2-3 minutes) after waking from hibernation. The Macbooks just wakes up from sleep and in 10-20 seconds is online.


List of Mac applications by macgiver

2006/08/23

Just stumbled upon this blog and noted at least three things of interest:

  • he has got a new a Mac Pro (I am green with envy 🙂 )
  • uses as a nick nice wordplay on MacGyver (this name has special meaning for all us, ex-Montage folks)
  • he started to learn Objective C and Cocoa and blogs about it, I am curious – (not that I plan to give up Java, C# and Python ..)

Also see his list of recommended (mostly) free Mac applications. Going to try out some of them for sure !


Road to Mac I: Hard Decisions

2006/08/22

January – July 2006

This is the story of a journey travelled quite often these days. It describes discoveries, joys and frustrations of one long time Windows user learning how to use Mac OS-X. Many have done this before, many have blogged about it.

The reason why I am writing this down is mostly to remember, and as well because I can. One of the assumes uses of the new MacBook was creative writing so I guess I am trying fulfill the promise to myself. I have no idea whether this will be an interesting read for anybody else but me. But I’ll write it anyway.

This sort of “back-blogging”. I am using my notes from PC and from the Web to reconstruct these events.

Writing of this chapter was started exactly as I have imagined it before I decided to get a Mac. I am sitting in Starbucks (Kanata Chapters, for a change – my home Chapters at Pinecrest will have to have to wait few more hours for the premiere), in comfy-chair a typing into wonderfully simplistic editor Writeroom, in full screen mode, free of any disruptions.

In order to understand it all better, let me present my professional background and bias. I have started to work in the IT field almost 20 years ago in 1987, right after I’ve my Master’s degree in Computer Science. I spent most of my professional life in Windows or other Microsoft-made environments. First contact with Microsoft made operating systems started in 1988 with MS-DOS and continued through MS-DOS enhancements-slash-replacements (such as Windows 3.x, Windows 95). I was using mostly C and later C++, in various incarnations. From Borland’s fantastic Turbo C trough Zortech C++ to Turbo C++, Microsoft C from 5.1 up to 7.0 and then Visual C/C++ from 1.0 upwards. I have had the opportunity to code in Visual Basic, from 3.0 up to 5.0 as well as way too many VBA dialects (anybody remembers genealogy of Access Basic or first Excel with VBA style macros?). All this lasted up to 1998, when I seriously got involved with Java (at that time, the underlying OS was mostly Windows NT). It lasted until 2003 and it sort of loosened the Microsoft link, but most of the time, even in Java, I was using Windows as main development platform and Unix was usually only the deployment platform.

During last 5 years, I made few attempts to feel really at home in Unix and Linux. To certain degree I have succeeded. What I never accomplished was getting to the state where Linux would become my primary or preferred platform. There were always things that were so much easier in Linux, but there was always lots of things that were awkward, hard to remember or just inconvenient outside of Windows. Even as Java programmer, I was still more productive in Windows: the new versions of JVM were available for Windows first and for quite some time, Linux was second class citizen in Java world – just recall the issue around native threading vs green threads. It got all resolved, but it took time.

Corporate environment, office file formats and compatibility issues were always a big deal. Remember, that was early 2000’s and OpenOffice with its capabilities of reading and saving Word documents were still quite far away … Linux (and Unix) was always mostly production or server environment. I was able to do what I needed to do but never made the step to leave the Windows quite behind.

So here I am, locked with Windows for most of my professional career, getting ready to jump to the Mac platform. Couple of years older and (hopefully) a bit wiser than in 1999-2000 when I tried to switch to Linux, I did not plan to switch to Mac and go away from Windows. With majority of my projects coming from .NET space, it would make little sense and would be probably pretty bad for the cashflow. What I wanted to do was to embrace, include Mac into my digital world.

One of my friends did try to really switch to Mac in early days of OS-X (2000) and to use it as his main and only platform inside medium size organization. He bought the coolest looking notebook at that time (17” Powerbook) and tried to merge into corporate world of Windows domains and Microsoft Office documents. After few months, he gave up and went back to Windows. If he had done it today, very likely it could work – with advances in OS-X, Openoffice 2.0 available, he would be able to do most of his work on Mac. Thanks to Intel based Macs and software like Parallels and VMWare, he would likely got over to largest obstacles of Windows defectors: how to replace/work with others who use MS-Project and Visio.

What was my motivation to get a Mac in a first place: curiosity. There was lots of buzz on the Net about Mac software and Mac culture. The people I knew who used Mac, were usually very happy and quite passionate about it. I am happy owner of both Nikon DSLR and Sony HDD camcorder and whenever I tried to google how to do this or that with pictures or video, I ended most of time in software for Mac platform. Even such non-artistic, non-visual area as personal productivity and implementation of Getting Things Done was dominated with Mac tools and Mac people: the best recommended system was kGTD (Kinkless GTD), implemented as collection of AppleScript on top of OmniOutliner Pro.

I started to think about getting the first hand experience with Mac shortly after January Intel announcement and Apple’s introduction of Macbook Pro. I was already toying with an idea of getting another, small, very portable just-for-fun notebook that would be dedicated not to work, but to reading books, surfing web, writing and managing my digital life: pictures, music, video and so on. True – it would be the fourth notebook in the household (in addition to about 5 desktops) – after my 16” Fujitsu N5010C, Toshiba M200 tablet and old P3 based Toshiba – but I managed to convince myself, it would be useful: the Fujitsu is very heavy (7-8 kg) and not exactly portable, with battery life about 70 minutes, tablet is being used and does not have really nice screen (few of tablets have) and the P3 Toshiba barely runs Win98 or Linux. So new small and light notebook with good battery life would really help.

At first, I was looking either on very good looking Vaio subnotebooks (something like Sony’s VGNSZ260PC or similar small notebook from Fujitsu something like P7120 or newer Q2010. The problem was very high price – around $3000, much more than I was willing to pay for the fun. And then, 13″ Macbook was announced with starting price of $1500, with of the size I still could consider very portable and it created interesting dilemma: for about 50-70% of the price Sony/Fujitsu, I could get one beautifully made, cool looking small notebook, but not Windows one. I would not be able to do everything what I was doing on desktop and the other windows based notebooks. Or would I ?

I started to compile list of “all I wanted to do with Mac” and search for appropriate software. I was spending lot of time on Mac related sites during April-May, going in circles between two extremes:

  1. Absolutely yes. I have to try it out why are all these people so crazy about OS-X. It must be soooo much better than Windows.
  2. Are you crazy ? Spending almost 2K on a toy that you do not really need ? Besides, all you want to do can be done in Windows and you already know how to do it. If you now get something completely different you will be wasting time getting up to speed and resolving the issues you do not even know you exist …

What was influencing me most were forums and issues people were experiencing with Macbooks. Three main scarepoints – things people were complaining about were

  • Macbooks are loud and make very irritating “mooing” noise
  • the discoloration problem – yellow stains appearing on white surface after 2-3 weeks of use
  • Overheating problem

The discussion seemed to be going forever… and I was still watching them and waiting for fixes … and doing nothing. What won at the end, was curiosity and comparison of pros/cons. If I would buy Macbook and if the Macbook and OS-X would not live up to my expectations, the 2K is probably acceptable tuition fee – and I would get as reward more enthusiasm for Vista and Microsoft in general. By not buying, I may miss great opportunity to learn and enjoy something that is new, elegant and fun – and how often does life give you such chances? What also helped was acknowledgment of discoloration issue as a production problem by Apple and few reasonable voices in forums (which I forgot to save but in a nutshell they were saying that):

  • the loud voices of unhappy owners may represent very little fraction of the users. It may be much smaller percentage than with other products. The happy users have usually less incentives to write about how great are things working
  • Mac community has often much higher expectations and standards and what is being complained about may be not a big deal at all
  • Apple’s supposedly has better quality record than most of PC based notebook manufacturers

Decision day came late July. I logged on to Apple Webstore and ordered white MacBook, 2.0 GHz dual core CPU, 1 GB RAM and 100GB hard disk. I could have saved some money on going with smallest configuration in 2.0 GHz processor class and upgrading RAM/HDD myself – but I did not feel like touching the machine before I learn about it and certainly did not want to exchange the hard drive…

The order was submitted on 25th of July and the wait started ….


On blogs, bloggers, blogging

2006/08/22

If you would ask me to pick one technology phenomenon that had the largest impact on and was the most characteristic for the technology during the years 1995-2000, my answer would be “Web, of course”. For the years 2000-2003 I’d vote for eCommerce, online applications and collaboration (like Google, eBay, Amazon and many others). And for the last 3 years, I would definitely pick online communities and blogs.

Blogs are like tsunami that is changing the landscape of online content. There is nothing really new about what they are. Blog is user editable Web page, with very few features: implicit tracking of entries by creating calendar-based index of older entries, ability to add comments to the entries, limited form of categorization and tagging as well as some simple, blog-2-blog notification mechanisms (backtracks and pings). The only aspect in which blogs are different is simplicity of creating and running a blog. The same way as Google made searching for on-line content very easy and accessible, blogs are the very easy way how to create that content. Good content is one of the main reasons why people go online.

To have better idea about the magnitude of the effect, here are some numbers. According to David Sifry

“… there is 50 million blogs out there (as of August 2006) and this number doubles every 6 months.”

Now this is *some* growth – the blogosphere is 100 times bigger now than it was 3 years ago.

“As of July 2006, about 175,000 new weblogs were created each day, which means that on average, there are more than 2 blogs created each second of each day. The total posting volume of the blogosphere continues to rise, showing about 1.6 Million postings per day, or about 18.6 posts per second. This is about double the volume of about a year ago.”

If you would expect that huge majority of the blogs is in English, you would be surprised. According to David, only approximately 40% blogs are in English, trailed by about 30% in Japanese and about 15% in Chinese. I wrote “about” as the number go up and down by few percent from month to month.

I was quite surprised by really high ratio of Japanese blogs – high relatively to population size of Japan versus English speaking countries. Maybe the penetration of the market with very advanced video-internet capable computer-phones is responsible for the high number. I also believe for variety of reasons that large Chinese presence in cyberspace is a good thing, both for China as well the cyberspace. The “Internet services superpower” – India is probably under-represented and relatively invisible, hiding between English speaking blogs. Maybe because only few percent of huge Indian population has Internet access.

These numbers are simply overwhelming. Growth rate of the blogsphere is much higher than growth rate of the rest of WWW. Relative impact and weight of community driven web content will soon be larger than more traditional media with companies and organizations behind them (I consider both New York Times, CNN.com and Yahoo! being “traditional”, because the content is created by dedicated professionals).

But (there is always a “but”) – to really understand this new trend, it is important to have deeper look on the content, authors and audience of the blogs. A blog can be very different thing than a blog.

These basic questions help me to better understand and to organize my view of the blogospere:


1) Who is the author ?

Is it single person providing his/her unique viewpoint or is it a community (such as Gizmodo, Lifehacker) ? Is it an organization ?
Most of the growth (in absolute number of blogs) is coming from new individual bloggers, grouped around free hosting sites such as Blogspot, Livejournal, Yahoo etc.

Corporate blogs (see whitepaper) are also growing in popularity, both for internal and external use. Sometimes there is dedicated group of employees commenting on and discussing internal affairs on closed forum, sometimes the blog is public (such as this one ). Corporate blogs are representing much smaller percentage of the new blogs, but their contribution to the content is higher than from individuals. They also more often use premium hosting sites.


2) What is the purpose / motivation for publishing ? What is the benefit for the author ?
Surprisingly large amount of blogs I’ve seen, did not have obvious motivation, rather than “because I can”. The main difference between publishing a Web and publishing a blog is very low barrier of entry. Almost everybody can blog. And as it looks like, almost everybody does.

Some people start writing blogs because they are following the masses, joining the crowds – or because their friend Mike is blogging too. Some want to satisfy the innate human need to be heard / read, receive feedback and be more visible, be more important or just in order to become part of some community.

Technology related blogs often follow “meritocracy” principle from opensource movement. The more you contribute to a project, the higher is your influence and “rating” among your peers. Publishing and sharing your tips, tricks and insights on the blog is great way how to start contributing to the shared pool of knowledge.

Many blogs are just plain public journals or on-line diaries. One can debate what is the value of putting your private journal to public consumption. IMHO, it takes some degree of exhibitionism to do that, assumed that you are honest with yourself and writing diary, not work of fiction about a non-existing person.

You have certainly seen (and likely ignored) many blogs that looked like they were created just to let the “steam off”, to express the the author’s frustrations. Aside from possible therapeutic effect for the owner, I find these of little interest to spend on them any time – unless you know the author personally. In this case, the journal blog provides unexpected insight (often quite unwelcome). In rare cases, the effect *can* positive.

I have read nice dedication on one of the blogs (do not waste your time going there unless you speak Slovak) where 40+ new blog writer summarized his motives for blogging as:

” I am a father of a blogger. From his blog, I have discovered a lot about his world and learned to understand him better. With this blog, I’d like to return him the favor”.

Lot’s of blogs are being created daily with one very specific purpose in mind: blogging for money. To do that, you need just two ingredients – large enough audience visiting your site and ads they can click on. The business model is simple: for every click on the displayed ads by your visitors, Google gets some tiny amount of money from advertisers and sends some percentage of this tiny amount of money to you. Which means you need many many many clicks to earn few bucks. And only very few sites actually get enough out of it, to use it as sustainable business model. Ads work best for focused community sites such as Gizmodo, with huge targeted audience. One nice example of site making money this way and still providing interesting content, created by single individual is Steve Pavlina.

Unfortunately, there are few more “business models” for monetizing your blog – for example when a company pays seemingly unaffiliated bloggers to promote a product or service through “objective reviews”, but I do not consider this dubious business practices to be blogs (and certainly not worthy spending more time on).

Legitimate blogs created by business tend to have better defined purpose. It costs money to pay people to blog and as business owner, you do not do it, unless it gives you back some value: new marketing channels, community building, evangelization of company/products/individuals or even direct sales. See Tim O’Reilly’s blog or http://www.joelonsoftware.com/ for a great example of valuable “personal business blog”

Quite specific category of blogs are aspiring amateur writers and journalists, trying to do what they cannot do as their main job: writing and publishing fiction, novels, short stories, providing news and comments on events of interest. For these people, the blog is just easy, zero-barrier-of-entry delivery channel. Which leads directly to the next question: the content.


3) What is the content/topics covered ?

Again, there is huge variety of all content imaginable out there – from blogs about Joe through blogs about world’s politics up to blogs about galaxies. The difference is degree of egocentrism, or in other words – how much is the personality and life of the blogger object of the blog. Usually (unless Joe Blogger is a celebrity) the more it is about Joe, the less interesting it is. Why would you (as a reader) care about Joe’s private life, what he did yesterday and what are his plans for vacation ?

Well, you actually *may* care if:

• Joe is somebody like George Clooney, Wayne Gretzky, Richard Feynman or Add-Your-Favorite-Celebrity-Here (guess who of the three mentioned is mine ;-) )

• Joe happens to share something with you – it may be something good (like your secret passion for building model airplanes in scale 1:59 which very few people do), or something not so good (like lung cancer). By discovering a virtual acquaintance that shares your pain or passion, you feel less alone and may find something useful in how Joe copes with his situation.

• you are compulsive watcher of reality shows and spend your own life by watching other people lives, regardless how boring they are (there must be some amount of people like that, otherwise the reality shows could not be so wildly popular )

• Joe is your neighbor across the street and you have been wondering what business is this guy in to afford the new Lexus every year
• Joe is your perspective employee or business partner, and you need to find out more about him before you employ him / sign a deal

Many bloggers do not realize the hidden danger in last two cases – see these few examples to be warned.


4) What audience is the blog for? What is the benefit for the readers ?

Surprisingly many bloggers seems not to think about their audience at all, which makes their blogs uninteresting and boring. At the other side of the spectrum are blogs addressing by choice controversial topics, written specifically to attract lots of readers and spark lots of heated online discussions. You can easily tell by the titles people use for their entries. This type of competing for the readership is very obvious when there is a ranking system on the server which sparks the competition or when there is a monetary incentive to have many readers – like using Google Ads. This has sometimes the very same effect as in journalism – previously good and respectable site degrades to some form of tabloid in chase for ad-clickers – I mean readers.

What value do the blog readers gets out of blog ? I do not dare to make any guess for the others. There must be something in it for many different people, otherwise there would be no large audiences. Basic motivation can be curiosity and leisure – passive content consumption – pleasant way how to spend time. A kind of new TV, with much more control over what you read/watch/listen to (considering the increasingly popular audioblogs aka podcasts and videoblogs).

For me personally main value areas I get out of reading blogs and community driven content repositories are:


1) learning and problem solving

You may not always find answer you are looking for in the “traditional” professional Website. Whether I need need an explanation why am I getting mysterious SQL Server 2005 error message or how to get iMovie to recognize MPEG file from Sony HDD digital camera, my best bet usually are forums, Wiki’s and blogs. None of them is clearly superior, and blogs have their perfect place in the infospace.

Compared to Wikis and Forums, Blogs are more personal,with more narrow focus. Which means once you find a blogger that works on similar problem or in the same area, you have best possible match. In Forums, many people contribute and create topics. This leads to wider area coverage and to more ideas, but also to less coherence and (in order to find something) more clutter for the reader to work through. Blogs are less formal and less structured than Wiki’s. It leads people to providing and sharing content more easily. I have less worries and things to consider when I add new entry on my blog than when I am editing a Wiki page, possibly modifying somebody else’s contribution. There is more personal touch in blog and little need for consensus as with Wiki. Blogs are also more convenient for the authors – content for the blog can be created offline and uploaded, edited directly in browser or even sent through email, whereas Wiki and Forum must be accessed only through browser.


2) navigation guide and discovery

It happened many times with books: I have found blog about books, where the blog author highly rated several books that I liked a lot as well. On the same site, I have also found recommended other books, I never heard about before. After reading them, I loved them. This is how I found Red Dwarf series, the Frederik Pohl’s Heechee saga as well as Andrzej Sapkowski fantasy masterwork . Similar idea are Amazon “recommends” and Amazon user book lists, but there is bigger chance of commercial motivation behind book great 5-star review and also less visibility to the personality behind the recommendation(s).


3) filter …

something like SQL View, limiting the data to what is relevant. It is one of the ways how to deal with information overload. Many people browse the Web and blog on nuggets they discover. If you find and pick right person, his/her trail may be very interesting to follow.

The bookmark community sites such as del.icio.us, digg.com, reddit.com are doing something very similar, but filtering “by statistics” rather by interest. They are usually best bet to discover trends, fashion waves and new fads, but if your information taste differs a lot from Average User, you may be better off with finding few virtual buddies that are more like you and follow their trails – through their blogs or bookmark collections. Chances are, they are reading digg or reddit and will report their findings anyway.


Blogs++

With all the millions blogs in existence, what is the point of adding another drop to the sea of blogs ? What is the motivation and intention of the author of this one ? Where in the classification should this blog fit in ?

This is an individual blog. It does not represent standpoint of the company I am affiliated with. There certainly is strong alignment between many of my company values, views and visions and my values, goals and visions – which is why I work there – but this is not meant to be our official PR.

The topics reflect my interests and are therefore (mostly) technology and cyberspace related. From “real life” I am commenting on very few topics, e.g. books and personal productivity / personal development (aka “lifehacks”), all of which are quite close to technology and cyberspace. I have all intentions to avoid easily inflammable topics (such as politics or religion) unless it is “flamewar” about technology (for example Linux vs. Windows vs. Mac or .NET contra Java – be my guests!).

It is not a personal journal. It is subjective – as every blog is – but I’ll try my best to stay focused on the topics other than my personal life. No pictures of the kids or family vacations here. They are some out here on the Web, but audience is limited to mostly family only. Unless you know me quite well, it would not really interest you anyway.

Writing a blog takes a lot of time. This blog is my spare time activity. While ago, I found out that for me personally writing is the best way how to organize my thoughts, pretty much on anything. During last two-three years, more and more of this writing was happening on computer. So in addition of many paper notebooks, I have created many small files, in variety of formats, spread across variety of computers. As many users of multiple computers, only way how to have my stuff available was to store it somewhere on-line. I tried several offline+synchronization strategies too, with mixed results, but that is a different topic, I’ll get back to it.
So my files as well as electronic trace of interesting topics and places have been stored online for over two years now.

What benefit do I expect to get out of making my e-Stuff publicly accessible ?

Several benefits, in fact:

– quality of content. I saw huge jump in quality when I started to write things down compared to just thinking about them. Writing forced me to formulate my thoughts much more precisely and writing/typing slowed me down enough to spot obvious problems. I hope for similar effect when going from writing privately to writing publicly. Chance of a feedback and possibility of an audience will (hopefully) force me to improve my communication skills, upgrade my English grammar and vocabulary and communicate more clearly. Time will show if it will indeed happen …

– accessibility. If something is easily accessible for everybody, it is easily accessible for myself as well -)

– diligence in active processing of the content. Responsibility of public blog will hopefully help to overcome laziness. It happens all the time: I have interesting idea or observation, but because I am lazy, I just fire off an email to myself with 3 cryptic words or write them down on piece of paper. Week later, nothing makes sense any more, and idea is gone. If I’d spend 5 more minutes on making it a short blog entry, it could have been still there. With my Mac virtually always with me, I can do that from any place

– learning on own mistakes
You can never learn from a mistake unless you find out you’ve made one first. And nobody will give any feedback, unless they know what you are doing …

synchronicity and serendipity.
One cannot rely on it, but I have seen evidence of it too many times to ignore it. Just trying to increasing the chances of any of that happening again, is worth the effort.

Scrolling back to top in ecto , I think that the very first skill I have to master will be how to write shorter entries :-).

If you managed to read until here, thanks for your time. See you soon.


Hello world!

2006/08/19

Since R&K published the The Book, the title above became de-facto standard way how to start anything. Which is one of the two reasons why I used it as title for this very first entry. The second reason is that the friendly folks from to WordPress.com have created the title and the first blog entry for me.