Emma and I were up in Deer Park this morning for the 10:00 am opening of the Apple Store.
We got there at about 9:35, and there were about 150 people in line already. By the time the doors opened, there were probably about 350 people queued up. (Emma took this photo.)
The store is a standard, smaller-format store– about the size of the Old Orchard Apple Store.
The two notable things about this morning’s event were the free t-shirts and the fact that I got to mess with an iPod Touch. The Touch is pretty cool (it’s an iPhone without the phone) but it was a little slow to respond. And I couldn’t get on the iTunes Store from the phone at all, probably because every WiFi device in the house was jamming the store’s network.
On the way home, another interesting thing happened: we were heading south on Rand Road and passed underneath Route 53 when I saw this:

That’s Sears Tower in the center of the photo, some 40 miles away. This sort of thing only happens on the clearest of clear days.
From there, it was off to Trader Joe’s and then back home.

Jun 122007

The other night, one of my daughter’s friends asked me why I have an Apple sticker on my car.
I gave my usual response, which is “because I use Apple computers and they’re cool,” but for some reason I felt the need to temper that response because of the way Mac people are perceived these days.
I consider myself a “Mac Person,” but more important than that, I’ve always believed in the philosophy of “the right technology for the job.” There are things that mainframes can do that UNIX servers don’t do very well, there are things that Linux servers do nicely that a Windows 2003 machine can’t. For what I do, a Mac fits the bill better than a PC running XP or Vista.
The Mac is not flawless, by any means. I’ve had my share of problems with Macs– but for the most part it’s a solid platform that works.
And sometimes, the reactions you get from people who hear you’re a Mac person are amazing.
Many people I meet are technology-agnostic, which means a computer is a computer and there’s usually no compelling reason for them to care what operating system is running under the hood. When I mention to these people that I use a Mac, they’re usually genuinely curious, and in some cases (let’s take my real estate agent as an example) ask if the Mac would solve some of the problems they have on their PCs, or at least, how different the computing environments are from each other. It’s my hope that most computer users will eventually fall into this camp.
Until then, we’ll continue to have the factions of Windows-hating Mac Users and Apple-hating Windows Users.
Not too long ago, I was on a local discussion forum and someone made a comment about the expense and incompatibility of Vista on his computer. When I raised a concern about Windows Vista’s new licensing structure, he immediately said “Well, that’s what you’d expect to hear from a Mac User.”
Unfortunately, this is typical in some corners of the computing world, and it seems no matter how even-handed you are about computer platforms, someone will label you. And it’s not limited to that side of the argument (if we must pick sides).
There’s also a segment of Mac users who view other Mac users as part of a huge brotherhood who must do everything they can to convert the masses to using the Mac. Often, these people are even worse than the combative PC users because they approach their world as evangelists, oblivious to other opinions or viewpoints. For these souls, Apple can do no wrong. This is the main reason I stopped visiting certain Mac forums on the internet– reading most of those postings made me woozy. (Posted next to a Hello Kitty avatar: “Omigod, I just looooooove my little Macky the MacBook! It’s so cuuuuuuuuute!” Gack.)
What I like about the Mac is the fact that, most of the time, if I want to do something it will simply work. By controlling most aspects of hardware and software, Apple has created a near-seamless model. Plug in your iPod, it works. Plug in a gigabit Ethernet connection, you’re live. Viruses? None to speak of, really. These are the parts of the “Get a Mac” TV ads that speak the truth.
What I don’t like is the fact that when something goes wrong with a Mac, it’s usually something really stupid. For example, I am about to have the keyboard on my MacBook replaced for the fourth time– not because of abuse, but because of Apple’s self-admitted problems with the manufacture of the part. Apple is cheerfully replacing the keyboard free of charge, but what if I didn’t live no more than 10 minutes from an Apple Store?
Another example: last week, Apple released an update to their iTunes software that I dutifully loaded on my Mac. The result: about 40 songs that I purchased from the iTunes Music Store wouldn’t copy to my iPod any more. (Not all the songs I purchased from iTunes, just these 40 completely random tracks.) The solution? I had to rebuild my entire iTunes library, a 20-minute process.
So I’m faced with a choice– have a computing environment that works with the occasional stupid glitch, or run what 90% of the computing world uses (Windows) and deal with drivers, antivirus software, and a little more tweaking than I’d like.
I’ll choose the former, but I won’t be evangelical about it. And the truth is that PCs will be with us forever, and even though I use a Mac, I still run Windows XP (under Parallels) on my MacBook because there’s no software for the Mac that’s as good as Adobe Audition for mixing our podcasts.
The proper tool for the proper job: that’s what it’s about. And that sticker on my car? It’s not so much a badge as it’s a cool-looking sticker.

MacBook Drives Old and New
Here’s another MacBook hard drive replacement story for the Apple fans out there:
My MacBook came from the factory with an 80 GB drive (Fujitsu MHV2080BHPL, on the left in the photo above), and I decided to take the plunge and upgrade to a larger drive because of our podcasting work and the fact that I’ve become a Parallels junkie :-).
I decided to go the simple route and get the same model drive in a larger capacity: newegg.com has the Fujitsu MHV2120BH 120 GB drive (on the right in the photo) in stock, so I ordered that one. It arrived quickly, as newegg orders usually do (unsolicited plug :-).
The steps I took were as follows:
1) I backed up my existing hard drive to an external firewire enclosure using SuperDuper. (I’ve been using this application for a long time, and I’m a huge fan– it’s what I use for regular backups.) My drive had about 55 GB used on it, and the backup took under an hour.
2) I shut down and rebooted, holding the “Option” key to see my boot device choices: I chose the external drive and booted from that, just to make sure everything on the backup worked okay. It did. I shut down the MacBook and disconnected the external drive.
3) I laid out a clean cloth, turned the MacBook over and removed the battery. Then I used a small (jeweler’s) Phillips-head screwdriver to loosen the three screws on the memory/hard drive bracket in the battery compartment. Then I removed the bracket.
4) The hard drive is in the left end of the case inside the battery compartment. I untucked the plastic tab and gently pulled: the hard drive slipped right out.
5) The hard drive is mounted on a thin metal caddy: you will need a #9 Torx screwdriver to remove the drive from the caddy. I removed the four screws from the caddy and removed it from the old hard drive. Then I put the caddy on the new drive.
6) I slid the new drive into its slot and tucked the plastic tab underneath the drive as the old one originally was.
7) I replaced the memory/hard drive bracket and battery, and put the unit upright again.
8) I connected the firewire drive and powered up the MacBook holding the Option key. I selected the external drive (as I did in Step 2) and booted up.
9) Once running, the MacBook gave an error message that I connected an “invalid device.” A dialog box asked if I wanted to initialize the disk, and when I clicked “yes” it brought up Disk Utility.
10) In Disk Utility, I selected the new drive and chose “Erase.” After a minute the drive was ready and MacOS mounted it: I could see it on my desktop and in the Finder.
11) I fired up SuperDuper again, this time making the external drive the source and the new internal drive the target. The restore took about an hour.
12) Once completed, I shut down the MacBook, disconnected the firewire drive, and pushed the Power button. The MacBook booted perfectly with the new drive. Success!
13) Once I was up and running, I ran a “Repair Permissions” just to make sure everything was copacetic. It’s all good.
There are instructions on Apple’s site in this PDF document. The one thing they don’t tell you (as I’ve found in other instructions online) is the bit about the drive caddy and the Torx screws, which I imagine would have been extremely frustrating had I attempted this at 11:00 at night and found myself without the appropriate tool.
I’d like to acknowledge Andy Biggs at The Global Photographer weblog for his excellent description on how he performed this operation.
Hope someone finds this helpful!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
A couple weeks ago, I bought a new MacBook. It’s the 13-inch Core Duo 2.0 GHz machine, and I upgraded the hard drive to 80 GB. The unit came with 512 MB built-in, which I upgraded myself (more on that in a second).
The image above is a screenshot of my current desktop. Note the cool aspect ratio.
Now, you may recall I bought an Intel Mac Mini earlier this year; well, that computer is now in the hands of a coworker who bought it from me, and from what I understand he’s having a whale of a time with it. He’s got it connected to a spankin’ new BenQ 20-inch flat panel monitor and he’s very happy with its performance. The funds received from the Mini helped underwrite the cost of the MacBook.
When I sold the Mini, the 2 GB memory upgrade I purchased from OWC did not go with it. I swapped in the 512 MB from the MacBook to the Mini and the ‘Book got the 2 GB. And yes, the buyer was aware of the switch. :-)
Before I go any further, let me say that I became something of an expert in the process of opening up the Mini. I followed the video instructions on OWC’s web site, and if you have the right tools (one skinny metal putty knife and one plastic putty knife) you can do the job and leave your Mini’s case unscathed. If anyone wants to hire me to open their Mini, my rates are reasonable.
Now, on to my first impressions of the MacBook:
The MacBook’s glossy screen is probably the one thing that’s caused the most noise among the user community. Prior to now, all Apple notebook PCs had screens with a matte finish; with the introduction of the MacBook, Apple has followed a similar path to HP and other PC manufacturers and now provides a glossy-finish LCD screen. I’m going to cut to the chase here: the screen is wonderful. It’s bright, the colors are more intense than on my iBook, and speaking as someone who works in an office with overhead fluorescent lights and rides a train every day, the reflective qualities of the screen do not get in the way of my using the MacBook.
Another of Apple’s changes was to make upgrading the MacBook’s memory and hard drive about 1000% easier. On the iBook, the memory was under the keyboard (and on most older models, also under the AirPort card), which was not too difficult to access. Changing the hard drive, though, required major surgery involving the removal of about 90 screws. On the MacBook, you remove the battery and three screws to remove an access panel. Once the panel is open, two levers help you remove the memory, and pulling on the hard drive’s plastic tab removes it from the machine. Upgrades could not be simpler.
Another change is the keyboard. The keys are now flat, square, individual buttons mounted through the case, as opposed to a single, removable keyboard unit on the iBook. Some people have said it’s the same keyboard layout as the iBook, but it’s not: there is a separate “Eject” key at the far right, next to the F12 key. On the iBook, “Eject” and “F12″ were the same key. This makes accessing Dashboard easier on the MacBook, where you just hit F12; on the iBook you had to hit the Function key and hit F12. Some people have said they like the new keyboard better, but I’m still getting used to it.
When I first fired up the MacBook, it asked me the standard questions including “are you moving your information from another Mac?” At first, I said “no” and created a user with the login name I always use. Then I tried to run Migration Assistant (the program that copies your files and applications to your new Mac) and it complained that there was already a user with the name I wanted, so it created a new user and copied my info there. After it was done, I tried to put things the way I wanted, but I realized it would have been too much hassle to change everything, so I re-imaged the machine and ran Migration Assistant right from the first login screen.
Most of my apps worked fine the first time out, and for most programs I wasn’t required to re-register when I fired them up for the first time. Microsoft Office, iWork ’05, and Photoshop Elements 4.0, among others, all transferred fine. Some other apps, like WireTapPro and Audacity, don’t have Universal binary versions so they did not work.
I had reinstall my printer drivers. I have a Samsung laser printer connected to a DLink Ethernet Print Server, and while the queue and the drivers seemed to have been moved over, I was unable to print. I wound up reloading the drivers from CD.
Other than that, my iBook world was merged nicely with my MacBook world.
I bought a license for Parallels, and that’s loaded on my ‘Book as well. I haven’t done much, but I was able to get file sharing working between the Mac and XP environments. First impression: it runs very nicely.
Another observation from the user community is the MacBook’s tendency to run hot. One area– the part that would be on your left leg if you sat the computer in your lap– does get warm. I don’t find it disturbingly warm, but it does run hotter than my iBook or my ThinkPad did.
When I ordered the Macbook, I wanted to get an extra power supply with it. The challenge was that the online Apple Store’s lead time on the 60-watt MacBook power supply was 6-8 weeks, yet they had the 85-watt MacBookPro adapter in stock. I ordered the 85-watt version and it works perfectly– it’s got the same MagSafe connector, and although the power cube itself is a little bigger, it works just fine. And most important of all, it’s the same price.
I was unsure of how I would deal with the larger size of the MacBook since my iBook is a 12″ model. I’m pleased to say that it only takes up a bit more room in my briefcase, so the difference is negligable.
I purchased a sleeve online from Waterfield Designs, and it’s great. Their customer service is top-notch: I think I had three or four emails from a real, live person at WD telling me the status of my order. I have a Booq Vyper for my iBook, and while I’m impressed with its durability, the WD case is just so much nicer.
So those are my initial thoughts about the MacBook. More to follow!

Apr 132006

After a few days of messing with Boot Camp on my Mac Mini, I decided it was time to remove it.
No, I’m not giving in to the peer pressure of friends, coworkers, and loved ones (well, one specific fangirl loved one)… I decided the experiment was over.
A big contributing factor was the Mini’s performance with Adobe Audition. I used it to mix the latest Cheap Date podcast, and I was very unimpressed with its performance. The main issue was that scrolling across the project was slow and choppy, probably due to the video card/drivers built into the Mini. It looked like I was running it on Windows98. (As a reminder, my Mac Mini is a Core Duo with 2 GB of memory.) To be fair, when it came time to crunch the project down to its final MP3 file, the Mini finished up in about half the time my regular PC (with an Athlon 1700+ processor and 768 MB of memory) usually does it.
Other things that really bothered me were the fact that the clock always reset itself to 5 hours ahead (corresponding with GMT) every time I booted into XP, and the fact that it couldn’t see the OSX side of my Mini. This latter point is probably a blessing, because otherwise I would be worried that my OSX partition would be subject to viruses brought in while running XP.
Then there’s the fact that I had to shut all the way down and bring the machine all the way back up every time I wanted to switch environments. It’s not a very efficient model in which to operate.
Finally, there’s the question of why I bought a Mac in the first place: why run Windows on this machine when it’s designed to run something better?
The decision has been made. Boot Camp will be removed from my Mini over the weekend.

I took the leap yesterday and installed Boot Camp on my Intel Core Duo Mac Mini.
Installation was very straightforward: I had to upgrade the firmware on the Mini to the latest version, and then I ran the Boot Camp installer. It walked me through partitioning the hard drive and creating a CD with device drivers on it, and then it went through the Windows XP installation process. An hour after I started the process, I had an XP environment running on Apple hardware. The video, audio, network, bluetooth, and wireless were all configured perfectly.
One annoyance I’ve found is that the clock in the XP environment is always wrong when I boot up. This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s disconcerting to see “3:00″ in the corner when it’s 10:00. It’s also a pain to have to reset it each time I use it.
Basic web surfing and accessing other computers on my network all work fine.
My next step is to install some intense applications (I’m thinking of loading Adobe Audition, which we use to record the Cheap Date Podcast)– I want to try to slam the computer’s CPU and see how those Dual Cores deal with it.
So what does all this prove? Well, that you can run Windows XP on an Apple computer.
From the bigger picture, I’m not sure what it means. I’m beginning to see what some in the Mac community are saying, that this could be a big misstep for Apple. My guess is that this is a novelty that’s going to wear off. I just hope Apple has some sort of strategy for bridging the worlds– I’m thinking that stable virtualization would be the best selling point.
Meanwhile, my coworkers and my beloved are pressuring me to de-contaminate my Mini as quickly as possible. We’ll see. :-)

Apr 072006

I downloaded Parallels Workstation 2.1 Beta 2 and loaded it on my Intel Mac Mini. This is a brand-new product that lets you run Windows (and several other operating systems) in a window on your OSX desktop. (Click the photo to see a larger version of the screen shot.)
Having used Microsoft’s Virtual PC before, I always look at products like this with a cynical eye: Virtual PC ran okay on my iBook, but the performance was generally lacking. Parallels is supposedly designed to take advantage of the virtualization capabilities within the Mac’s Intel CPU, so I was hopeful when I loaded it.
Installation was fairly simple. Parallels grabbed about 4 GB of disk and 256 MB of memory by default. Both of these parameters are easily changeable through the configuration screens. I loaded Windows XP Professional, and it seems to run fairly well.
I did not load any applications yet; I wanted to see how it handled simple things such as Internet surfing, and it did just fine.
For some reason, I could not get it to recognize the Macs on my network (including the host Parallels was sitting on), and the Macs didn’t see the XP instance. The XP instance could see the Macs in Windows Explorer, but when I tried to connect to them the application hung.
Another fairly serious challenge I ran into is the fact that Parallels crashes my Mac every couple of hours.
Another issue is that there does not seem to be any sound drivers within the Parallels environment. This presents a problem if I want to view or listen to Windows-only media.
Of course, this is beta software and I should expect some trouble, so I can’t whine too much about it. Regarding that point, I see that a new version of the software is up on Parallel’s site (I am running version 2.1.1658.24 and the version up as I type this is 2.1.1658.30) so maybe they addressed some of the weirdness is there.
All of this is abhorrent to Lisa, of course, who believes that the only thing that should run on an Apple is OSX. She just shakes her head when she sees a screen like the one above. :-)

Apple Computer released a beta product called Boot Camp today. This is a component of their upcoming operating system OSX 10.5 (“Leopard”) which allows the user of an Intel-based Mac to run Windows.
This is a brilliant move on Apple’s part for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Microsoft’s next version of Windows (“Vista”) won’t be available until next year. Now, people who are looking to buy a computer this holiday season are presented with an option: they can buy a Dell or HP like everyone else, or they can buy a stylish Mac to go with their cool iPod. They’ll also have the bonus option of working with a superior operating system, OSX.
I became a UNIX-head in 1986 (SunOS 3.2 was my first exposure to it), but I learned within a few years that Windows was the way of the business desktop world (does anyone else remember WingZ or FrameMaker?). Since then, I viewed Windows as a necessary evil: I have some apps that run only on Windows, so my main computer at home– the “Big Computer” as the kids call it– is an XP machine.
Buying a dual-core Intel-based Mini last month brought OSX to the Big Computer’s screen. (Through the magic of a KVM switch.) And as of today, I have the option of running the Big Computer’s programs on my Mini.
Apple was smart enough to wait until there was a lot of buzz generated from members of the hacker community who managed to cobble together a solution to this a couple weeks ago. Today they were able to pull the Boot Camp rabbit, all ready to play, our of their hat.
Perhaps trying not to completely prove John C Dvorak’s theory that Apple will switch to a Windows-based platform, Apple says that through Boot Camp they will provide the means to dual-boot your Mac to OSX or Windows, but they won’t actually support Windows. Fair enough.
And now that Apple has given its hardware the capability of running Windows, it’s in Microsoft’s (and their business partners’– hello, Dell) best interest to make sure it runs well, lest they lose customer after customer with calls to Apple Tech Support that finish with the recommendation “Well, boot into OSX and let’s see if the problem goes away.”
Of course, there are limitations: your Mac environment may not be able to write files to your XP space unless you set it up correctly, and your XP space won’t be able to access your Mac files at all. I think it’s only a matter of time before this problem gets resolved, though. And on a related path, it seems there’s an announcement expected later this week from a company which is planning on releasing a new virtualization product for OSX, allowing you to run Windows within OSX. Microsoft’s Virtual PC does this today, albeit only on PowerPC Macs and not rather well.
While I may be too hopeful that this will start to chip away at Windows’ stranglehold on the desktop, I’m always glad to see competition. I’ve known way too many corporate IT managers who have burned out with constantly patching and repatching an operating system that was never meant to scale in the first place. Maybe this is the beginning of a trend.

Oct 142005

I’ve been looking for a decent backup program for the Mac for a while. Every recommendation I’ve received has been either expensive and overblown with unnecessary features (e.g., .Mac) or mind-numbingly complicated (e.g., some French program I downloaded). For the near term, I’ve been copying my user files to my iPod and then transferring that data to the second (300 GB) drive on my desktop XP machine.
All that changed when I learned about a package called SuperDuper. This is a great little program which serves the single purpose of backing up your data without a huge hassle.
I have an external firewire drive, and when I run SuperDuper it duplicates (get it?) the contents of my iBook’s drive to the firewire drive. I can even boot from the firewire drive once the backups are complete.
My iBook’s hard drive has about 30 GB used on it, and it took about 35 minutes to back the entire thing up. By registering the package, you get the ability to perform incremental backups, so that only the changes to your hard drive are reflected in your backup image. That saves a big chunk of time in the backup process.
I’ve always been a proponent of purchasing really good shareware when I come across it. SuperDuper cost $19.95 and is worth every cent.

Here is the video from today’s Apple event where Steve Jobs introduced the new iMac, the new iPods, and the new iTunes video features.
Some things never change– this reminds me a lot of the videos we used to see back in ’89 when Steve was running NeXT.
The new products look pretty cool, I must admit. And as for their impact on our world, I defer to Lisa.

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