The Holophonor

The more I play with my new MacBook, the more impressed I am. Things work the way I expect them to. Generalizations from known behaviors hold valid. Everything is simple enough that a neophyte could be up and running with minimal assistance—but a determined expert could wield it with infinite grace and unimaginable power. Perhaps most impressive of all, the road from the one to the other is smooth. There is no discontinuity, no sudden need to switch from basic mode to advanced and start again from scratch. It works at all scales.

I purchased the remarkable Mac OS X: The Missing Manual I wouldn’t have needed it to do any of the things I need this computer to do, but it’s been tuning me in to some of the more, shall we say elegant ways of doing those things. Just in the first chapter, I’ve learned such details as: * The close button on a wndow shows a small dot in its center if you have usaved data in that window. * You can operate any control in an inactive window without bringing the window to the front by holding down the Apple button while you do it. * The Sidebar in the Finder window is customizeable on the fly. Just drag items into and out of it.

All is not sweetnes and light. (the built-in email client) now uses a non-standard and absurdly profligate format to store email. I’ve switched systems and email clients enough times in the past that even my infatuation with OS X couldn’t convince me to go with a mail program from which I couldn’t easil extract my mail. So I’m running Thunderbird, and so far, so good. In fact, things here on the Mac make enough sense that I’ve been able to pull together my scattered archives from my previous email lives. For the first time in a decade, I have an email collection that goes all the way back (with a few unfortunate gaps due to poor backup habits) to 1995. In the end, a bad decision by the Apple engineers isn’t going to be too much trouble for me; it’s the sort of thing I can route around. (Now, to keep my fingers crossed and hope that Address Book integration makes its way into the next release of Thunderbird. The code is written and is apparently running fine in some dev builds; it just needs to be integrated into the main branch, tested, and extended.)

Perhaps similarly, I’ve been going through some contortions having to do with converting a whole mess of photos from TIFF into PNG or other more broadly useful online format. I tried to install the UNIX ImageMagick utilities, but the compiled versions wouldn’t install due to some strange file-dependency issues. I suspect that the PowerPC-to-Intel transition has exposed an incompatibility. No problem, I thought—OS X is just UNIX under the hood, so I’ll grab the source and build it. Whoops. Not only do I not have the right compiler (since my computer came without the development tools installed), but the fink package-management system itself has some serious issues running on the MacBook. The experience included all of the inscrutability of UNIX without the compensating functionality. It turns out that iPhoto does batch conversion just fine; there may be a moral in here.

One should not make a mountain of a molehill. These experiences were two days ago, and since then it’s been smooth sailing. My previous Windows XP computer (which I loved dearly and was quite happy with) required me to reinstall Windows on its very first day out of the box. Fun fun fun, let me tell you. The Mac is still, all in all, giving me the sort of new-computer euphoria I haven’t felt in many a year.

Hey James,

Cool! Hope you have a good experience with the computer. A few notes:

  1. The dev tools are an optional install, but should have come in the box with your computer. It’s worth installing them if you do anything from the command line.

  2. Check out sips (man sips) for command line image processing. It’s in the default OS install. Or, if you happen to feel hackish, I can show you how to do it with a program. APIs for image reading, writing, and metadata processing are available.

    sips example:

    mkdir pngFiles; sips -s format png *.tiff -o pngFiles

  3. Everything is simple enough that a neophyte could be up and running with minimal assistance—but a determined expert could wield it with infinite grace and unimaginable power.

    My favorite example of this is the keybindings system. You can use a fair subset of emacs text handling shortcuts in most places where text appears on the system[1]. Try ctrl-a, ctrl-e, and option-delete in a TextEdit document.

[1]: Standard key bindings work in standard text controls. Thunderbird might not use standard text controls, since Mozilla has its own widget kit.