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general

The Death of Aperture

So Apple has killed off Aperture, the photo program I’ve been using for the last few years to slog around the 30,000-some pictures I’ve taken. iPhoto is going to die soon, too. They’re replacing both with Photos, a dumbed-down port of the featureless picture program that’s on the iPhone. Oh, but that has The Cloud, so I’ll be able to dump 100 gigs of photos, pay $4 a month rent on them, and then live in fear that I’ll accidentally have some switch flipped in a system update and burn through my monthly data cap when it tries to sync all of that stuff to my phone seven times every time I leave the house.

I know, “why don’t you just put all of your pictures in a big hierarchy of folders on a hard drive and not keep them in a database?”  Because I actually need to find shit, and it’s not 1997 anymore.

I moved everything from Aperture to Lightroom yesterday. There’s a plugin for Lightroom that does most of the deal for you. I bitched about this endlessly, and it ate up a few days of my time, but I guess it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Here’s the various observations and gotchas:

  • It helps if you clean up your Aperture library first. I found I had an insane number of scans that were impossibly huge and didn’t need to be, and a lot of RAW files of dumb stuff that I didn’t need. I like to keep RAW files of Hawaii sunsets, but if it’s a picture of a dumb sign or a Taco Bell, I can smash it into a JPG and still sleep at night. My library was about 140 GB, and I got it down to about 85 GB before import.
  • You basically need your library size in free space on a drive to do the conversion, so good luck with that. I chose to convert in-place, so I freed up about 100 GB, put the new Lightroom in ~/Pictures/Lightroom* and then moved my old library off of my machine to a backup when I was done.
  • Back up your shit before you start. Back up your machine in general. Clone your entire drive regularly, not just your documents.
  • Lightroom puts all of your master photos in a hierarchical tree, just like I made fun of, and then keeps a separate database of metadata and non-destructive edits. The database itself isn’t that big. It keeps a previews database, too, and that can get big, depending on how big you make your previews.
  • Lightroom Folders = the hierarchy where stuff is stored in the above. I used Aperture folders projects as the “hard” dividers of what photos were captured in my library, although those are just virtual and you can move them around.
  • All of my photos ended up in a folder tree like this: LightroomMasters/YYYY/MM/YYYY-MM-DD/files* I don’t know how it decided on that hierarchy. I think it’s based on actual imports into my Aperture library, and not capture time or EXIF data or projects. I guess that format works for me.
  • Your tree in the left panel thing for Folders won’t look right. Right-click on the folders and do “Show parent” endlessly until it looks right.  (I.e. show the parent of the three levels of the hierarchy. Is there a faster way? I can’t find one. You only have to do this once, though, I hope.)
  • An Aperture Library = a Lightroom Catalog. I only had one Aperture Library. If you keep multiple Libraries, I don’t know what to tell you.
  • Aperture albums and projects are converted into Lightroom Collections. I.e. a Collection is a “virtual” collection of photos from your folders, and if you add or remove things to a Collection, you aren’t touching your stuff in folders.
  • If you edit the Collections made from your Aperture projects, you aren’t actually moving your masters in your folders. That’s a huge pain in the ass for me. Like I found a bunch of scans I took in 2006 that were pictures from, like, 1979. They should be in the folder for 1979, and they aren’t, so I had to find the pictures, then move them into the right folders.
  • All of your Aperture Smart Albums are broken. You can possibly use Smart Collections to replicate that, but you need to do it over.
  • All of your Aperture edits are gone. If you did edits, static preview images of the edits were imported, but you need to start over using Lightroom’s tools to do them again.
  • Any of those edited images will not have a Capture Time in them. The default grid view in Lightroom is sorted by Capture Time. So you’ll have a big mess there, and have to spend some time with the Metadata > Edit Capture Time settings.
  • I don’t even know what happened to shared albums. I don’t even care. I’ll start over. Nobody looks at my Flickr page anyway.
  • You end up with a huge shitstorm of dummy Collections with nothing in them. This is probably my fault, but I had to do a bunch of cleaning there.
  • At this point, this bulleted list is longer than I wanted and nobody’s reading, so figure the rest out. It will 90% work, but you’ll probably spend a weekend futzing with it after import.
  • Back all of your shit up again after you do all of this, and not on top of the old backup.
  • Do all of your imports in Lightroom. Don’t just dump images into your Masters directory or Lightroom won’t know they are there. If you want to dump them to a folder because you have a piece of shit phone without a modern sync, you can make Lightroom watch a folder and auto-import it. You can also do various schemes like watch a Dropbox folder and dump pictures there, like screenshots or your security cameras or whatever.

Here’s the main problem with Lightroom: there is no good way to sync with an iPhone (or iPad.)  You can set it up so when you plug in your phone and Lightroom will start and go directly to the Import screen and then import your photos, which is mostly how Aperture worked. (You could also just mount your phone and drag the files to your ~/Pictures directory if you are an idiot and want to lose all of your metadata and spend hours dealing with duplicates and creating new subdirectories and moving files around and whatever else.) So import is fine.

But there’s no real way to export and sync files to your phone. There are half-assed ways, but you can’t use iTunes to do it automatically anymore. It used to be in iTunes, I could say this:

  • Go to my iPhoto/Aperture library
  • Get my last X months of pictures, plus these other Albums I’ve selected
  • Sync those to the phone, and also clean up the ones that aren’t in the above, so my phone doesn’t slowly fill up and I end up trying to sync and I have 62GB of pictures on my 64GB phone and I have to spend a weekend deciding what to kill, and then the fucking thing will try to resync the 62GB anyway.
  • Do all of the above without me thinking at all, with no interaction, without opening iPhoto or Aperture, because life is too short.

There’s no way to do any of this in Lightroom. The closest I can think of is this:

  • Tell iTunes to sync from a folder.
  • In Lightroom, create a Publish Service that dumps a Smart Collection to a directory.
  • Remember to open Lightroom and click Publish before every time you sync your phone.
  • I don’t know how this handles duplicates or if it deletes old images. I haven’t tried it.
  • This is horrible.

There are some various plusses to Lightroom, I guess:

  • My library size dramatically dropped. I went from about 85 GB to about 70 GB. It’s possible that I just haven’t generated previews for everything and that will slowly climb.
  • Lightroom processing tools are supposed to be better. I haven’t gotten into that yet, but I spent a few minutes futzing with some RAW images, and it’s not bad.

So there’s what I did for the last few days instead of writing.

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general

Ode to a Mid-2010 MacBook Pro

My MacBook died yesterday. Shit.

It wasn’t a full-on, catastrophic death, the kind with no backup and fire and smoke and no hope. It was more of a long goodbye. I replaced the battery last fall, the third battery in its almost five years of heavy use. It looked like the battery was holding a full charge, an app saying it had low cycles and high milliamp-hours. But it would lose a few percent per minute, and then would get down to about 20% and power off with no warning.

I thought this was one of those background-process-sucking-power things, like some damn Adobe vampire lurking in the shadows, constantly pinging home and scanning every file on the hard drive. I tried killing everything imaginable, and then tried a fresh install, zapping the NVRAM, resetting the SMC. After a 24-hour marathon of file copying and reinstalling, it died on 90% battery.

I bought this computer in 2010, in the spring. I jumped on board right on the first day of the new model, when the first i7 Macs appeared. I remember this well, because it was right after I switched jobs and left Samsung, so I worked in Palo Alto. I was in a funk, writing-wise, trying to pull back out of a long stretch of not doing anything except writing every day about how I could not write.

I drove to the Apple store in Palo Alto on my lunch hour to buy the computer. They had them in stock, and $2500 later, I had the top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook Pro. I took it back to my cube, unboxed it, snapped photos, and took a quick look. Then it sat on my desk while I stared at it, waiting until the end of my shift for my long commute back to the house. Then I plugged it into my old Mac, and did the eternal wait for the migration assistant to slowly slurp all of the files from one hard drive to another.

This was both exciting and sad. I had an unusual attachment to my first Macbook, one of the 2007 white plastic not-Pro Macbooks. I wanted a new laptop bad, but wasn’t working that summer. I was sitting on a bunch of junk after we moved to Denver, though – things I could easily dump on eBay. There were years of bachelor-mode acquisitions ripe for the picking: collectible coins, old electronics, DVD and CD box sets, and a bunch of barely-used gadgets and trinkets. I spent the first part of the summer unloading all of this on eBay, making sales and watching auctions and driving to the Denver post office to ship off boxes and packages to far-off buyers around the country. The PayPal balance grew, and by the end of June, I got within target, and orderedd my new machine. I then watched the tracking number, as the machine left China, went to Anchorage, and then jetted down to Colorado. I loved that machine, and it went with me everywhere. It also represented that odd, brief period of 2007, a period of nostalgic landing I always want to visit again.

That machine got quickly retired for its more powerful aluminum unibody sibling. And by the fall of 2010, I started working from home, and got a lot more serious about writing. I can’t thank the machine or the schedule, but launched into a new mode of writing and publishing. And that machine was at the center of all of it. Since I got that MacBook Pro, I’ve published five books (plus republished another) and probably written a half-million words, easy. I also used it for a lot of photography, video, music, and other work. It’s been a real workhorse, and I’ve become very attached to it over the last four and a half years.

That Mac has held up well, all things considered. It did have the dreaded NVIDIA curse, though. That was the first model with a discrete video processor on the logic board, a second GPU that it could switch to for heavy processing, or shut back off for better power use. And a lot of the machines had bad failures. Mine started to crap out a few months in, and ended up getting two logic board replacements, along with a battery replacement because of a recall issue. I doubled the memory, and moved to an SSD. But otherwise, the machine ran well, and lasted longer than any other laptop I’ve had.

I managed to bring that thing everywhere, too. It went to Europe twice; the Midwest a bunch of times; work trips to New York; Hawaii; a bunch of trips all over California. I got a lot of writing done on the road, because I used it as both my desktop and portable. It got scratches and scuffs, but that aluminum case kept it together, and still looks decent.

The battery thing was the kicker, though. I don’t even know if the battery itself was bad, or if it’s another logic board flake-out. It’s still a decent machine, CPU-wise, although the lowest-end MacBook Air now benchmarks higher than the 2010 top-of-the-line. It didn’t have USB3 or Thunderbolt, and had the slower SATA bus, so the SSD drive didn’t work at full speed. I also could not increase the RAM any more than 8GB, and it would not mirror its display to an Apple TV. I seemed to get in at exactly the wrong time, when all of these technical innovations were showing up. It was a great machine, but it was starting to show its age.

After yesterday’s death, I gave up, ran to the Apple store, and bought the latest MacBook Pro Retina. I went down to the 13-inch model, which feels insanely light and small compared to the old one. I’ve spent the last day porting things over, and it’s such a huge improvement in speed. Plus it’s got USB and Thunderbolt, and gigabit ethernet, and the Retina display is insanely nice. Most importantly, I’ve been working for an hour now, and the battery is just down to 97%.

So, start of a new era.  And PSA: BACK UP YOUR MACHINE. Go get a CrashPlan account, drag your important stuff to Dropbox, and get an external drive.  Get two, they’re cheap.  Now, on to the next era of writing with this new toy.

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general

Dropping computers

My Mac is back in the shop.  It has TS4088.  When it switches GPUs to save power, if the computer is hot enough, it crashes.  It’s common on this specific make and vintage, and it’s the problem with buying a computer on the first day of a major revision.  I complained to the right person, and Apple agreed to swap out the entire logic board for free.  Now I just have to wait.  I’m using S’s computer in the meantime, which is much faster than my 2007 MacBook, but I only have my most vital of files on it, like my new book I’m writing.  Maybe this will make me get more done.

My computer is now just shy of three years old.  Once it is back, I am swapping in an SSD drive, which is currently sitting on my desk.  It’s still a good computer, fast and light and well-constructed and all of that.  The logic board thing is unfortunate.  I hope that when it’s replaced, I can get another year or two out of it, although three years is about the right timespan for upgrading.  The only thing I miss having is that the newer models can mirror their entire screen to the Apple TV, and mine can’t.  I don’t know what I’d use that for, especially since it’s easy enough for me to mirror any movies on my computer to the TV.

I went to the Apple store to drop it off.  I drive down this ghetto back road that is barely paved, like an Indiana road.  I hit a pothole and one of my wheel covers came off.  It rolled like a Tron deadly disc and went right under a moving semi truck.  Now my car looks weird, with three silver wheels and one black.  I went online and the official Toyota wheel cover is $80 each, or I can get a set of four generic ones with no Toyota logo for $30.  I ordered the generic ones.

As I was walking down from the second floor above me, there was a woman walking in front of me.  She looked sort of like that woman from Cagney and Lacey who was later on Nip/Tuck, the kind of woman that still wears 80s pantsuits with the giant padded shoulders.  She was trying to carry an airline roller bag down the stairs and somehow became discombobulated and fell dramatically, half-flinging the bag, which slammed into the metal hand rail, then bounced and hit the stairs hard, falling down a dozen steps to the landing.  The fall was so stupid and awkward, I was certain she triggered it from some kind of brain aneurysm.  I stopped and asked her if she was okay, and she said she was, but papers from the bag were everywhere.

I’ve been noticing more weird episodes like this every time I leave the house.  Like almost every time I go to a store, someone is in a shouting match with a clerk.  I went to the drug store last week, and this woman was screaming at the pharmacist.  HIPPA rules probably prevent the public disclosure of prescription information, but this woman was screaming the entire episode over and over, so I know what it was.  The pharmacist called her doctor to check on something, and it turns out they could not fill her vicodin prescription for two weeks because she just filled her methadone prescription.  It seems like everyone around is on massive amounts of oxycontin, and can’t sleep at night without valium, and takes a dozen of those five-hour energy drinks every day.  And then when they go to a store, and a clerk is just doing their job, they scream at them like the CIA just called in a drone strike on them because someone misspelled their last name.

The last time I picked up a computer at the Apple store, this happened.  The system is simple: you make an appointment, they help you with your computer.  So they brought my computer out, and set it down in front of a cashier, and all I needed to do was show her my ID, and she would hand it to me, and say “have a nice day” or something.  But in that heartbeat between the guy handing it to her and me showing her the ID, a guy comes up, no appointment, broken phone, “I DROVE TWENTY MINUTES YOU NEED TO HELP ME WHERE IS YOUR FUCKING MANAGER.”  I just needed to flash my driver’s license, take the computer 18 inches from my hands, put it in my bag, and he doesn’t even give her a chance to speak, just continuing over and over “I DON’T UNDERSTAND I DROVE ALL THE WAY HERE FROM WALNUT CREEK AND YOU GUYS CANT JUST LOOK AT MY PHONE I DONT WANT AN APPOINTMENT NEXT TUESDAY I JUST DROVE TWENTY MINUTES.”  And so on.

I used to work in retail.  We’d have customers like this.  It wasn’t every day, maybe once or twice a week.  Is it worse?  Is my timing just bad?  Does everyone think they are the center of the universe?  Has the internet made us hate big companies?  Is the quality of everything so shitty now, with everything outsourced and nickel-and-dimed to the point of nothingness, that everything always breaks, with no recourse?  Are we all just cynics because we can’t believe anything anymore?

I’m trying not to let things like this bother me anymore, trying to give people the benefit of the doubt, trying not to lose my cool when it takes someone too long to do something.  I was at the post office the other day, and they were training a new cashier, and I had to mail a book to New Zealand.  The 2-minute transaction took about 7 minutes.  I think 80% of the people in Oakland would have fucking ended that trainee right there, cut off his head with his own chained-down pen and fucked his windpipe as the blood gushed out of his severed arteries.  I just smiled, and let him learn.  He’s a trainee.  It’s a post office job, and if he doesn’t lose it six weeks from now, it’s a good job and he’ll have a pension that hopefully won’t vanish soon.  He could be out stripping the wiring out of houses and selling it for meth, but he’s learning to work at a vital position so he can feed his kids and pay taxes that might someday repave that fucking road that ate my wheel cover.  I’ll give him the five minutes.

So I sit down at the Genius Bar, show the guy my paperwork, he starts to run tests on my MacBook.  Right next to me sits down the Cagney and Lacey woman.  She pulls out her MacBook Air that just fell down two flights of metal stairs.  It has a cracked screen.  “I have no idea what happened.  It must be defective.”

 

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general

iTunes Rating Bankruptcy

Last night, I declared iTunes rating bankruptcy.  I did a Cmd-A Cmd-I, then set the ratings to just over 12,000 songs to zero stars.

I’ve been talking about this for a while.  Actually doing it gave me the combination of exhilaration and terror usually reserved for when you accidentally delete an entire hard drive.  It felt like I’d done a big thing in the war against clutter, but I suddenly realized I’d completely fucked my smart playlists, and would spend the next week or ten re-rating everything.

Email bankruptcy is a term usually attributed to Lawrence Lessig.  It’s when you have so many emails in your inbox that there’s no fucking way you’ll ever deal with them.  So, you do a select-all, hit the delete key, and maybe send out a mail to everyone in your address book explaining that if one was waiting for a reply to an email, they should resend it.  If something important needed a second mailing, it would show up, or the item wasn’t really that important.  This solves the clutter problem, and gives you a clean slate to practice one of those hipster productivity methodologies involving answering every single email in your inbox every day, and either filing or junking everything else.

(I also have the email problem.  But, I’m a packrat, so the bankruptcy thing’s not going to happen.  Well, never say never.)

This sudden iTunes scorched earth action addresses a slightly different problem.  I have these 12,000 songs staring at me every day.  I realize some of you hoarders have way more than that.  I should probably clarify that I actually paid for all of these songs.  I don’t download every single link I see in the off-chance that I may someday need to listen to the second demo by a proto-hardcore band from Jersey City called Jewish Karate.  A certain amount of curation occurs in that I only buy a limited amount of music, an album or two here and there, maybe a half-dozen a month.  That limits the amount of music that accumulates, but not entirely.

I regularly listen to music in shuffle mode. What bugs the hell out of me is I can’t listen to this entire collection in shuffle mode, because then every time some dumb-ass black metal band puts a 37-second intro track of ambient wind noises as the first thing on their album, it will randomly come up and piss me off.  So, I started rating those things with one star, and created a smart playlist that included every item that wasn’t a one-star.  And then, to avoid the stuff that had yet to be rated, I made that so the playlist was items greater than a star.

That’s fine, but sometimes, I’m just sick of a song.  I might want the entire Rush album Moving Pictures, but honestly, I was sick as hell of the song “The Camera Eye” twenty years ago.  So that would get one-starred.  But honestly, I’m not up for listening to the song “Witch Hunt” five times a week, so I gave that a three-star, and then changed around my playlist so it would only play stuff above a three.  I know, you’re saying “why not just trash that song?” but I still wanted the complete album, at least in that case.

I used to carry all of my music on an iPod, and by that, I meant my entire music library went on one of those hard drive-based classic iPods.  But a year ago, when I moved to the newest 64-gig version of the iPhone 4s, I decided to simplify things by only carrying a subset of my library on the phone.  (Prior to that, I carried no music on the phone.)  So, out came the playlists, and I created a byzantine set of rules dictating what got carried onto my phone.  I won’t even get into it, except to say it’s involved.

Here’s the problem.  I’m sick of so much of my music.  I’ve got all of this crap that has four stars that may have been important to me in 1988, but that I really don’t ever need to hear again.  Like, why the hell do I have all of these Grim Reaper and Helloween songs on here that are pure cheese?  And why the fuck should I ever care about Stuck Mojo again?  When I sit down to write, I will sometimes spend 15 or 20 minutes just trying to find music to play.

So, scorched earth.  I nuked every rating, then went back and started checking stuff that I purchased in 2012 and 2013, rating what’s good for me right now.  491 songs are now in the 4s and 5s, which is too few, but at least I’m not hearing music I should have put to rest decades ago.

Categories
general

Lack of computer

My computer is in the shop.  It has some random reboot situation, which is either from a bad motherboard or bad memory, and because it’s still under warranty and it has aftermarket memory, they want to prove that it’s the memory’s fault, although I’m pretty sure it’s the motherboard.  This is the first generation to have the NVIDIA GPU and discrete graphics, and I think it’s a lemon generation, because others have complained about a dud GPU.  But it could be the RAM, who knows.  EIther I’ll get a new motherboard for free, or they will say the RAM is bad and I’ll pay $50 to get it replaced.  The problem is not having the machine until then.

(And yeah, all you PC people can start with your HA HA MACS SUXXOR stuff.  But if this was a PC, purchased in 2010, it would have died about two years ago, and the warranty would have been long gone, and instead of getting help from an actual human at a store a mile from my house, I would have had to either fedex my computer to rural China and wait six months for an answer, or possibly bring it to a store that also sells refrigerators, junk food, and Beyonce CDs, and explain to a person who can’t read what happened.  There are only three steps in PC troubleshooting:  Reboot, Reinstall Everything, and Throw It Out And Buy A New One.  The fact that this machine has lasted three years is amazing – a three-year-old PC is a doorstop at this point.)

Anyway, I am now working off of my 2007 Macbook, which is plugged into the same monitor and keyboard and mouse, giving me the partial illusion that I’m on the same machine, but it’s a few versions back on the OS, only has a fraction of the speed and memory, and is missing a bunch of stuff like my entire music and photo libraries, my mail, and all of my documents.  I did install Scrivener here, so I can write, and I have copies of my latest books and projects, so that’s good.  And I have all of my homework and whatnot for my class, so I can do that.  But it is unusual to not have the bulk of my files around, even if I do have them over on an external drive just in case.

All of this does have me thinking about buying a new machine, though.  I wanted to limp along this MacBook for another year or two before shopping for a new machine, but I’m now wondering when the best point is to upgrade.  The rumor is that the middle of summer will be the next cycle for the MacBook Pro, and that they’ll be all-retina.  If I had to buy a Mac now, I would probably buy a non-retina, just because I don’t need to spend the money for a nicer display if I spend 80% of my time docked.  I’ve also thought about buying a MacBook Air and a Mini, using the Mini as a home server sort of thing, and the Air as a “terminal” and portable machine.  I don’t know exactly how this would work, or if there would be any advantage.  I would probably spend two hours a day moving files back and forth between the two.

Okay, I need to see how Scrivener does on a vintage six-year-old machine…

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general

Nuke from orbit

I did my first clean installation of OSX today, which is weird, given that I’ve been using OSX Macs since 2005.

The reason I’m not in the habit of nuking a machine and reinstalling everything is twofold.  One is that I’ve bought three Macs in that time period (a Mini in 2005; a Macbook in 2007; a MBP in 2010) and each time, they were factory-new machines with the OS preinstalled.  Prior to that, all of my desktop machines were built from pieces, and involved me installing an OS on a bare drive.  Most of the time, it was Linux, and when I first started, I’d have to find every blank or blankable floppy disk in the house, bring them all to work or campus, and download all of the floppy images for SLS or Slackware, using rawrite to create disk A1, A2, A26, B1,B2,N1,N2, and so on.  And then I’d get them all home, and halfway through the 27th floppy disk, I’d hit a bad sector and it would crap out and I’d have to dig around for another AOL floppy disk I could relabel and reuse.

My two pre-Mac laptops were both Windows machines from the factory.  I reimaged the Dell laptop and reinstalled Win98 in a different partition, and had to re-re-install it a half dozen times over the years.  The Toshiba laptop stayed with XP for Tablet and never got a Linux install, which was good because when that XP installation rotted out and required re-installation, Toshiba’s factory install DVD did not work, which is fucking genius.  (It would install a version of XP and drivers that would immediately BSD on boot.  Stock hardware, stock DVD, all stock settings.)

The other reason I never reinstalled OSX is I never needed to.  Windows is like a carton of milk sitting on a kitchen counter: it works for a while, but it will eventually make you puke and shit blood if you don’t completely replace it on a regular basis.  I guess I’ve kept a copy of Windows 7 going for two years now without a reinstall, so maybe those days are over, but who knows.  (Windows 8 actually has a feature that completely reinstalls the OS, which seems like a cop-out to me.)

I screwed up my current machine, though.  I’ve been using the migration assistant to move all of my apps and libraries and prefs and files from old to new machines, and installing new versions of the OS on top of the old one.  I think it’s probably fine to do that here and there, but I think I did it too many times.  I started with 10.4 on a PPC Mac, then migrated that to a 10.4 intel Mac, then upgraded that in place to 10.5, then migrated to another machine running 10.6, then upgraded in place to 10.7 and again to 10.8.  Somewhere in there, I fucked up a library, and my machine started getting flaky.

So, reinstall.  I cloned my machine onto a USB drive, and then made a USB installer for the OS on a memory stick.  Apple doesn’t ship their OS software on physical media anymore; an install lives in a recovery partition, or you can create a USB installer, which is what I did.  The actual reinstall was painless, and a lot of my config and stuff like my bookmarks and contacts magically reappeared on the fresh install, because it just goes and grabs all of that stuff out of iCloud.  I then copied over a subset of my apps, without installing every single thing I’ve ever installed since 2005.  Most Mac apps are a single monolithic archive file, and don’t have a bunch of loose files scattered all over the place.  The one big exception was Microsoft Office (of course), which I had to reinstall from DVD.

The only major bummer about reinstalling was actually copying over my music and photo collections.  Actually installing all of the metadata for both libraries was easy enough; you just copy over the libraries.  But the copies themselves took a few hours;  there’s no faster way to sling a quarter-terabyte of data from one place to another.

The only real snag I ran into during upgrade was that after rebooting, my external monitor didn’t work.  I freaked the fuck out on this, unplugging and plugging back in things, looking at if I needed to reset the PRAM or whatever, before I finally found out that I’d knocked the monitor cable and it was just slightly ajar, half of the pins no longer connected.  When I plugged it back in, it was fine.

The machine seems to be fine now, and is running much better.  Battery life is back to the pre-Lion levels, and I haven’t seen a beachball yet.  So, knock wood.  (Aluminum, whatever.)

BTW I went to the local Best Buy last night to get a new memory stick, which is probably the first time I’ve been there in a couple of years.  The place looks pretty damn destitute.  It looks like maybe 40% of the floor stock had vanished, and they just widened the aisles and put in a big-ass customer service counter to take up the extra space.  The only thing that was still densely stocked was the pre-cashier chute of high-calorie snacks that they make you traverse before you pay.  Maybe Best Buy should stop selling electronics and media and just focus on 5-Hour Energy and candy bars.

 

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general

Apple TV

So last night, as an early anniversary present, Sarah got me the new Apple TV.  Not the rumored buy-a-whole-TV-from-Apple Apple TV, but the third-generation set-top box from Apple.  My first impression is that this is an interesting little piece of machinery, and will largely replace my first-gen Roku, plus do a whole lot more.

The Apple TV is a very minimalist piece of hardware. It’s black, not much bigger than a hockey puck, and has no markings or logos other than a low-visibility logo on the top, and a light on the front that isn’t visible when it’s not illuminated.  The back has jacks for power, ethernet, HDMI, optical audio, and a mini-usb that is for “service use only,” whatever that means.  Other than the dust cover on the optical audio jack, there are no moving parts; it does not contain a mechanical hard drive or a fan. The whole thing is very low-key.

That’s the weird impression I get about a lot of Apple hardware and software. You plug everything in and think “ok, now what?”  And then suddenly, it becomes irreplaceable, because it Just Works.  That’s the way the iPad was.  I got it, fired it up, and thought, “okay, I have a web browser and all of my phone’s apps on a big screen.  So what?”  And then a week later, I was using it constantly, for everything. It’s the big appeal of ubiquitous computing; there’s no dazzle or show, but it’s something that’s always there, and totally utilitarian.

So, what’s it do?  Well, I plugged it into my TV, and when it fired up, it asked me how to connect to the internet.  I’m out of ethernet in my living room, so I pointed it to my wireless router.  (My first minor complaint is having to type in the password with the remote arrow keys on an onscreen keyboard, but that’s what I get for not having a wireless password of ABCDE.)  Then it asked me for my Apple ID and password, which is what I use to buy content on iTunes.  And then, main menu.

The obvious use for the Apple TV is for consuming content you’ve purchased within the walled garden of iTunes.  So if you’ve bought movies or TV shows or music in iTunes on your computer, or your iPad or iPhone, you can navigate the menus on the slick interface and see all of that stuff, and stream it to your TV.  The unit does not store any of the content on the box itself.  (It does have 8GB of SSD storage that it uses for buffering/caching, but those details are hidden away to the user.)  Of course, if you’re living in some rural outback shithole with a 56K modem, this is an issue, but for me, it isn’t. All of this works fine, and of course you can do stuff like peruse the iTunes store from your living room, and click on things to rent or buy them.  Part of the reason for doing all of this is to make it easier for you to throw money at Apple with very simple clicks, and this part, of course, works very well.  And any of your purchases here are added to your Apple ID, so when you go to your iPad or iPhone or MacBook, you’re going to have the same purchases available.

There are a number of other non-Apple streaming services available from this menu.  The obvious is Netflix, and if you’re already paying them, you can log in and stream all of their stuff.  There’s also MLB.TV, Vimeo, NBA TV, Flickr, and the biggest win for me, YouTube, which was not available on the Roku.  I spend a lot of time watching obscure UFO conspiracy theory documentaries on YouTube, so I will now be able to watch them on the big screen.  The one missing feature, for obvious reasons, is Amazon.  That’s a huge one, since we use Amazon Prime, but the PS3 offers that now, so all is not lost.  Another minor quibble is that there isn’t a way to add any channels.  I don’t know why I miss this feature though, because the Roku has it, and has a million channels to add, all of them being garbage.

The big feature that is not as obvious is that the Apple TV will stream whatever is in your iTunes library.  This means that even if you never bought a single thing from Apple, you can still stream all of the stuff you’ve ripped or stolen off the internet, from your computer to the TV.  This is big for me because I rip a lot of my DVDs so I have crap to watch on planes. Once the Apple TV found my laptop on the local network, I had a catalog of movies waiting for me when I plugged in.  Also, a lot of comedians have been doing this Louie CK model of a $5 downloadable concert, and I have all of those sitting in iTunes, ready to roll.  My former CD collection, which is now all ripped and sitting on my hard drive, is also available. Also, iTunes works as a conduit to iPhoto, so I can look through all of my pictures on my computer on the TV.

The other interesting thing is AirPlay.  Basically, the Apple TV acts as an AirPlay receiver, and any iDevice that supports AirPlay or has a program that does can pipe its output to the TV.  This is an extremely freaky and endlessly useful feature.  For example, if I’m sitting in the living room with my iPhone in hand, looking at a baseball game in the MLB At Bat app, if someone hits a home run or whatever, they will post a recap video.  I press play, but I click a little AirPlay logo and choose my TV set, and suddenly, I’m watching the video in 42″ glory, instead of on the tiny screen.  A bunch of games and apps support AirPlay, and will pipe their audio or video to the Apple TV.  This is also cool if you have the Apple TV plugged into a receiver, so you can use your stereo’s speakers as an output destination for audio from your computer or iOS device.

What gets even more mind-blowing is AirPlay mirroring.  If I’m on my iPhone, I can mirror my entire display to the TV wirelessly, regardless of what I’m doing.  The one downer to this is that the only device I currently have that supports AirPlay mirroring is my phone; neither of my laptops or my first-gen iPad have the GPU power to do this.  But it’s interesting, because if for example, I had a company that was an all-Apple shop, I could put an Apple TV on a projector in a conference room, and when a presenter needed to connect, instead of fucking with cables and adapters, they could just beam their stuff right into the projector.  (And of course, this is password-protectable, so your neighbors can’t suddenly shoot pornos at your TV at three in the morning.)

Like I said, this thing comes with a remote, and it’s a tiny piece of shit IR thing that I will probably lose in a week.  If I was smart, I could reprogram my all-in-one that drives my DVR so it would also work the Apple TV, but I’m lazy.  Luckily, there is a free app called Remote that I already have on my iPad and iPhone, that enables me to use them as glorified remote controls.  So when I have to search for something on the TV, I can use the keyboard on the iPad to do it.  (I suppose I could also bluetooth in my real keyboard to the iPad, like if I had to type a dissertation into the Apple TV, but I’m not there yet.)

All of this works perfectly and is an entirely disruptive technology if you’re using all Apple devices and have a bunch of crap in iTunes.  If you prefer registry fondling and DLL conflicts to usability and getting work done, I have no idea if the Apple TV plays well with the Windows version of iTunes.  And I’m certain there are some hidden DRM nightmares that prevent you from doing certain things, although the system seems perfectly capable of taking torrents you pirated off the web and playing them in 1080p glory.  (Not that I would ever do that, Mr. MPAA intern scouring the net for possible lawsuits.)  If you have philosophical issues with iTunes, cloud computing, wireless networks, and not owning physical copies of media, this isn’t for you.  But for me, it’s an almost perfect solution.

There are some minor issues, like the lack of an app store or method of adding channels.  The Apple TV uses the same processor as the iPhone, and a customized version of iOS, so I would suspect some kind of app store in the future, with the ability to add games and whatnot.  (There have been some jailbreaks for the first and second generation that enable you to do some freaky stuff like this, but nothing for the new version.)  Or maybe the philosophy is to keep the platform as just a receiver, and focus on iOS and Mac apps that use AirPlay.  There’s huge potential for kick-ass games that use AirPlay as the main display and your iOS device as a controller.

Anyway, it’s a cool little present.  Now I just need to go buy a new iPad to get mirroring to work.  Maybe that’s how they’re able to sell these things for so cheap.

 

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What happened to hypercard?

Hypercard was released 25 damn years ago.  Has it been that long?

Back in college, I spent a lot of time screwing around on the Mac, and there were certain programs that welded that old-school 68K Classic Mac experience in my mind.  One of them was Aldus PageMaker, which was the desktop publishing program of the day. This was in the very early 90s, in the days of DOS and WordPerfect 5.1, when the most advanced publishing work you could do on the WinTel side of things was using italics.  But the Mac had this funky and advanced program that enabled you to create page layouts and cool newsletters and even newspapers.  I saw many a journalism student slaving away on those old black-and-white Apples with the tiny grey screens, tweaking layouts and dumping fantastic publications to postscript printers.  I later learned PageMaker by doing the last issue of my old zine Xenocide in it, spending months tweaking page borders and reflowing columns.

The other program I messed with endlessly was HyperCard.  This was something included on all of the old Macs, and it was incredibly interesting to me.  Basically, you created a stack of cards, and each card could have a mix of text and clip art graphics on it.  But you could also plop controls on the cards, like links or text boxes.  You could then hook up those controls to link cards to each other, or do other freaky stuff like run scripts.

This sounds pretty pedestrian compared to what we do daily on the web.  And it sounds disturbingly like PowerPoint, which is probably one of the most evil things created in the business world. But back then, in the late 80s and early 90s, these concepts were absolutely revolutionary.  And even better, the interface to HyperCard was not that intimidating.  If you could make basic art in MacPaint or write a paper in WordPerfect, you could easily create a HyperCard stack.

I remember spending a lot of time at work creating a choose-your-own-adventure game using HyperCard.  I forget exactly what it was – I think it was a game about trying to score drugs on a college campus, and you could click on various pictures to move around.  It wasn’t exactly as sophisticated as the Zork series, but it was something I could do at work, under the guise of “learning more about HyperCard.”  I never learned much about the scripting language, but I did work with some people who did pretty sophisticated stacks.  The system was widely used by education majors, I guess to develop learning tools for kids.  I guess the original Myst on the Mac was written in Hypercard, each of the worlds a Hypercard stack, interlaced with heavy-duty graphics and audio, presented with custom plug-ins.

Like I said, the web came along, and HyperCard more or less vanished.  It was one of the products developed by Claris, which was spun off from Apple and then later re-merged.  The last version of HyperCard came out in 1996, but it was one of the projects killed by Steve Jobs after his return.  You could run old versions for a while, but it did not survive the jump from OS9 to OSX.  You could get it to work in Classic emulation on newer systems, but it only worked on PPC Macs.  On today’s Intel-based machines running later versions of OSX, it doesn’t work at all.

Its one big legacy on the Mac is that the HyperTalk scripting language was adapted and added to System 7, and called AppleScript.  It’s still around in modern versions of OS X, and is even more interesting, now that you can run unix commands from within AppleScript.  It influenced the development of HTTP, JavaScript, and Ward Cunningham said the whole idea of wikis goes back to using HyperText.

To me, HyperCard was always a bit of a missed opportunity.  I think it would be very easy for casual users to create HyperCard stacks and then use some kind of tool to push them to a web site; it would potentially be easier to create high-quality interactive web sites with something like that.  There are probably many programs that you could buy to do that, but none that come with your operating system and follow its UI paradigm.  It would also be great to develop mobile apps.  I could see creating a stack, testing it out on your computer, then pushing it through a compiler and shooting out a binary that could be run on a phone or tablet.  You couldn’t write the next Skyrim that way, but for simple stuff, like interactive kid’s books or multimedia guides, it would be great.  Same thing for interactive books on the Kindle or iPad.

I know you can do all of these things with XCode or by hand or whatever, but there’s something about the ease of use by a non-programmer, and the availability on every Mac, that make this a different paradigm.  There are some conspiracy theories that Jobs killed Hypercard in order to solidify the division between creator and consumer.  I don’t know if that’s true; I think he killed it because Apple had eleventy billion disparate things going on when he returned, and none of them were getting the company closer to profitable hardware sales or a decent operating system.  It’s too bad we don’t have something like this anymore.

 

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Patents, Apple, Whatever

There’s been a lot of coverage in the news about Apple’s various patent wars against Samsung and others, and the gist of the coverage is that the patent system was 100% fine up until Apple woke up one morning and decided to destroy anyone making a rectangle-shaped touchscreen phone.

I have no real arguments for or against the system, but one argument I keep hearing is “well what if someone patented the car?”  Funny thing is, someone did.  Check it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_B._Selden#The_Selden_patent and the patent itself: http://www.s363.com/selden/549160.pdf

George Selden was granted a patent for his “road locomotive”, and forced all other car manufacturers to license it, for a .75% royalty.  Ford later fought this in court, and lost; it was only on appeal that they were able overturn the patent.  The eight year legal battle almost bankrupted Ford.  This happened, by the way, over 100 years ago.

Another example of the fact that the patent system wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns until the invention of the iPhone: did you know that the Wright brothers were awarded a patent on the airplane?  More specifically, it was a patent on flight controls in all three axes, but they vigorously fought (and initially won) a huge lawsuit against Curtiss. It effectively blocked the building of airplanes in the US until the first World War, when the government stepped in and formed a patent pool.  (More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wright_brothers_patent_war)

There have been countless patent battles in the last century, and this Apple/Samsung thing is just the latest iteration.  I think it’s different now because people have such an attachment to their devices, that their brand loyalty becomes the newest us versus them.  Look at the comments on any of these news blogs from the Apple or Android or Microsoft fans (or whatever pejorative term you prefer) and you’ll find a level of hate and vitriol usually seldom found outside of a political news web site.  And in the days of page count-generated revenue, it’s far too easy for the gizmodos and engadgets of the world to throw up a daily article saying “is the new XYZ an iWhatever killer?” and let the ad imprints roll.

I am an Apple user, and that obviously influences my opinions.  But I also worked at a Samsung R&D lab, and saw things internally that strengthen those opinions. I should probably go back and re-read my NDA and exit papers before I say anything about Samsung and their design aesthetic.  I wouldn’t want Samsung to send me to prison for libel.

Anyway, the patent system may be horrible and broken, but the idea that it suddenly happened recently is off by a century or so.

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On the death of a New Balance customer

So Steve Jobs died, right on the heels of everyone taking a shit on the iPhone announcement and the new model not being able to read minds, turn straw into gold, or last sixteen weeks on a one-hour battery recharge.  Cause of death is assumed to be his pancreatic cancer, but this is a guy who was in the middle of a fierce legal battle with a company that uses PowerPoint for design documents, bug databases, legal briefings, and product mockups, so it’s possible he bought it from extreme eyestrain.  At any rate, the internet is swimming with heartfelt tributes from weepy Apple fans who are all remembering how Jobs invented the Apple II, Mac, and iPod, which is news to Steve Wozniak, Jon Rubenstein, and Jef Raskin, respectively.

I got started on the Apple II way back in grade school, although when it came time to actually own a machine, I got a Commodore 64.  That was a no-brainer; a C-64 cost $200, and a similarly-equipped Apple was about two grand.  And when it came time in college to gear up, a Mac Plus cost about $2500, while a cobbled-together PC cost a few hundred bucks.  By that time, Jobs moved on to bigger things, like the NeXT computer, and I took many a walk across campus to screw around on those high-end magnesium black cubes.

Even though I made a living helping people deal with their dying Macs over the phone (“shut down all of the other apps; reboot; zap the PRAM”) I never actually owned one. I did, however, identify as a Mac User.  Between a few long-term loans of old classic Macs and the hours spent in the Mac labs on campus, I did quite a bit of work on the machines.  I laid out my first zines in Pagemaker, and used the GUI-fied version of WordPerfect back when the 5.1 PC version was just a blue and white DOS box on a screen.  I probably identified with the Mac as some form of rebellion, of being different than all of the other masses of business school droids sitting in front of Windoze machines, plunking away at Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets.  And back in the early 90s, if you wanted to edit images or record sound or cut movies or do page layout, you used a Mac.  PC people could whip out the virtual dick measured in kilobytes and megahertz and brag about how much more they got for their dollar, but at the end of the day, they were sitting at a C: prompt, typing in all caps.

I eventually bought my own Mac, and have since bought a bunch of different iPods and iPads and iPhones and other iStuff that has made life easier and more fun.  And Steve Jobs was somewhat responsible for that, or at least responsible for the company from not completely going into the shitter in the late 90s.  But it always irks me a bit when people say he “invented” the stuff.  I’ve always been more of a fan of the Other Steve and his hacking of hardware that eventually led to the Apple II, or the futurist (and former tech writer) Jef Raskin, whose ideas about different computing paradigms eventually transformed into the Macintosh.  I’ve always liked the design of the Mac, but that’s also not entirely his deal, either (Jerry Manock).

Jobs falls squarely into the schizophrenic relationship Americans have with CEOs.  They don’t deserve their high salaries, but when a company fails, it’s entirely their fault.  They don’t invent things, but they do.  I am not saying either of these is right or wrong, but it amazes me when people believe both of these things.  And in the case of Steve Jobs, it always infuriates me when people think a CEO should single-handedly be involved with every aspect of a company.

This management belief is the one thing that pissed me off the most about Jobs.  Not that he did this incorrectly, but that he led so many managers to believe that if you acted like an egotistical asshole and got your thumbs in every aspect of a product’s lifecycle, you would be treated like a goddamn genius and get fantastic results.  I’ve worked for several managers like this, the kind of people who are in charge of a billion-dollar company, but need to copy-edit every single page of a stupid user manual that nobody will read, and then waste all of your time insisting they know more about technical writing than you do.  Just because Steve Jobs did the same shit, doesn’t mean anybody that did that would get the same results.  It’s like suddenly becoming a Nazi sympathizer will somehow help you become a leading auto manufacturer.

Probably the thing that freaks me out the most about the death of Steve Jobs is that he was only 56, and I’m now pushing 41, and I’m not exactly making billions of dollars on any of my companies.  I’ve always hoped that by the time I got some form of cancer, the medical community would be able to inject cell-repairing nanobots into my veins and the whole thing would go away in less time than it would take for me to jet-pack over to the local Mars shuttle and catch some lunch on the red planet.  Of course, now 58% of the country believes that science should be banned from schools, and I realize I am fucked.  I should probably eat some more vegetables or something.

Anyway, Command-Option-P-R, Mr. Jobs.  Thanks for not making me spend a fifth of my life trying to figure out what the fuck copy of d011v109.sys I need to download every other time I need to read a CD-ROM.