Review: iPad

We’ve had a few iPads at work since April, and one of them is presently assigned to me as I optimize our web viewer for the WiFi iPad and iPhone. While I’ve taken it home a few times to give it a whirl, our Memorial Day trip to Michigan was my first real serious time using it.  I decided to bring it with me instead of my laptop, just to see what it was like using it regularly. My experience was very pleasant.  Here are some random observations:

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Quicksilver meet the holy wars…

Was just chatting with Howard, who has literally written the book on Quicksilver, and was trying to figure out why he finds so much more utility out of Quicksilver’s keyboard triggers than I do…  I find myself using the "Command Mode" in most of my interactions with Quicksilver, but Howard makes extensive use of keyboard triggers.  We were chatting back and forth about this, and I struck upon a minor epiphany:

Quicksilver’s command mode is somewhat analogous to the command mode in my editor of choice, Vi.  Keyboard triggers, however, are much more like the meta-keystrokes of the Emacs editor, which is Howard’s favorite editor.  My brain is happy to deal with the notion of different modes for different contexts, where as the Emacs user is much more comfortable remembering a multitude of various keyboard combinations to get their work done.

It’s pretty cool that Quicksilver is this flexible, and in fact it one-ups both of the editors by allowing you to seamlessly choose whichever method appeals to you on a task-by-task basis, and furthermore it’s not mutually exclusive.  I do use a few triggers for some common searches (like IMDb, Wikipedia, etc) but setting up those triggers doesn’t prevent me from executing those searches in command mode.  And in this way, allowing you to choose the solution to a problem from a whole menu of methods (commands, keyboard triggers, mouse triggers, gestures, etc), Quicksilver is also analogous to a combatant in another holy war, Perl.  Perl provides many different ways to express oneself, and generally grants the programmer flexibility in expression.

Another way that Quicksilver is like Perl is that it is very tolerant of ambiguities and tries to resolve them as best as it can.  Type "adress book" into the command window of Quicksilver and there’s a good chance that even though "address" is misspelled Address Book will at least be among the top choices of Nouns/Subjects.  Quicksilver’s stated purpose is to allow the user to "Act Without Doing".  While that motto is a little too metaphysical for me, I think that philosophy is what drove this tolerance programmed into QS.

Myself and many other programmers are frustrated by Perl’s anything-goes philosophy, claiming that by being so permissive it makes reading the Perl code of someone who has a different style than you (or even reading your own code fro a few years ago) a difficult challenge at times.  If I were to try to continue to stretch this analogy, I would say that the Quicksilver version of this gripe is that, as a user, you end up growing so dependent on your specific usage patterns that if you work on a machine with QS configured differently, not installed at all, or science-forbid, a windows box, it can be rather frustrating.  You constantly attempt to invoke Quicksilver and fail, or even worse, learn that your carefully selected keyboard triggers vary drastically from your friends.

I have grown to really love Quicksilver, and I urge all Mac users to give it a swing!  They’ve done a great job of pushing most of the really geeky features under the surface a bit, and it tends to be as complicated as you choose.  I used it for a few years in straight command mode and found it to be super empowering, but over the past year or so (mostly due to prodding from Howard), I have found myself slowly expanding my horizons, and playing with more and more features of this amazingly deep tool.  Not all of the features I play with stick, but when one does, it suddenly feels like your old method of doing something was so antiquated.  For more information:

Update: Here is Howard’s take on this subject.

I am a nerd.

While it certainly wasn’t the nerdiest thing I have ever done, waking up at 6am on Friday morning to get an iPhone 3G is up there. I got to the Chestnut Hill mall around 6:40am and was approximately 50-60 people deep in the line. The store was not opening until 8am, so I sat down on the floor, busted out my laptop, and caught up on my RSS feeds, etc. Quickly the line was twice as long, extending all the way out of the mall.. My “line buddies” were all pleasant and we were chatting the whole time. We had heard that the Apple Store had planned on moving 100 customers per hour through the store, so being 50 people deep I was expecting to be out of the store by 9pm at the latest. While we waited Apple had people going up and down the line giving out Coffee, Tea, and some kind of fancy (smart or vitamin) water, which I thought was a nice showing of appreciation of your psycho-fans.

The store opened at 8am and they let the first batch of about 25-30 people in. They easily had 30 employees working the store, so it seemed like everything would move along quickly. Unfortunately, as some of you are already aware, this was not the case. It was quickly apparent as 20-30 minutes passed with only a handful of customers leaving the store that things were taking longer than they estimated. Apparently both AT&T and Apple’s servers were getting crushed. The server for the wireless handheld POS terminals the Apple employees use even crapped out at one point, although that was a quick reboot..

It was 9:40 before I got into the store, and all that meant was further standing in line. I finally was served around 10:15am, but it took forever to execute the transaction because of the network/server crush. Initially, after I finally paid, they took me to a station where they tethered the phone to a mac and tried to activate it with iTunes, but within the first minute the rep mentioned something about doing it at home and I jumped. I got out of the store at 10:40, and there were easily still 150+ plus people still waiting on line. Apparently soon after I left they stopped trying to activate the phones in the store at all, so perhaps the line started moving along quicker after that.

I got home and tried to activate, but it wasn’t until after lunch that I had any luck.. Eventually, either Apple/AT&T fixed their problems or enough people gave up that I was able to activate.

All that said, I kind of expected these kinds of problems, so while it sucked, I was prepared for it to suck… I’m loving the phone so far, although it’s going to take me awhile to become proficient at typing..

Review: MacBook Air

My MacBook Air finally arrived on Friday, after more than three weeks of anxious anticipation. This machine is replacing my old 1.67Ghz Powerbook G4, which now belongs to . Now that each of us has our own Mac, we are freed from the scourge of Windows. Corinna was reluctant to “switch” while she was finishing her masters, fearing learning new shortcuts and whatnot would slow her down while working, but now that she can learn at a more leisurely pace, she doesn’t seem to mind. Just before Christmas, the boot disk in our PC died, and the frustration of getting that machine back in working order was finally the last straw. After the new year, I began posting the eyepieces I won at Stellafane to eBay to get the money for a new laptop.

I was interested in the Air from day one, but after they started showing up in the local Apple Stores and I actually got to play with one, it was game over. For me, the tradeoffs that most people see weren’t really existent… I walk to work as often as I can, so a lighter machine is a huge win. And most of the time, my old G4 was plenty fast, so the slightly slower processor in comparison to my work MacBook wasn’t really much of an issue either. The only thing that really concerned me was the slower rotational speed of the hard disk, but after playing with it in the store it didn’t seem to be much of an issue (not to mention that eventually there will be faster discs in that form factor that I can upgrade to in the future). I ended up ordering a 1.8Ghz machine (with a traditional hard disk).

The machine is simply awesome. When I’m holding it I feel like if I left go of it, if it didn’t hover in place it would at least gently float to the floor (I haven’t tested this out yet). As you’ve likely heard in just about every review of the machine, it feels way sturdier than you’d expect given it’s size and weight. I’d venture to say it even feels sturdier than my Powerbook, which always felt like a tank to me. I feel like I could drop it from the roof of NRH and still use it when it hit bottom (of course, the floating would help).

I read some reviews criticizing the battery life, and frankly, I just don’t see any problem. Sure, when I was downloading a 10GB file using the 802.11g, the battery life was shortened. But whenever I’m using the machine in a more normal setting, I get 3-3.5 hours out of the battery. I’m sure I could stretch it further if I disabled Bluetooth and WiFi, but whatever. As far as I can tell, it lasts longer than my Powerbook battery ever did.

The screen is gorgeous, even if it is glossy (why can’t you make the matte finish a BTO option on all the lines, Apple? I’d happily pay more!) The LCD backlighting is so bright at full brightness it is almost uncomfortable. I haven’t really trained myself to use the multi-touch stuff much at all, honestly, it seems mostly like a novelty. I’ve been wrong before, though, so I’m going to see if I can make it useful. My guess is that when a 3rd party releases a trainable gesture system, it might become more attractive. I just don’t zoom photos enough to get a semi over the pinching. :)

I haven’t played with Remote Disc… I bought the external drive, but honestly I probably won’t be using that all that much either. I’ve gotten to the point where optical discs are the new floppies. I pretty much buy all of my music and software online these days, so it’s pretty rare that I need an optical drive. The only time I watch movies on a computer is when traveling, and I always ripped DVD’s to the hard disk for travel anyway (as the optical drive devours precious battery).

I don’t really have many gripes with this machine.. I seem to sometimes get a double login prompt when unlocking the machine, but I don’t know if that’s a Leopard problem or specific to this machine. It is also strange not hearing the optical drive initialize every time I wake it from sleep. It’s like trying to sleep in the country after living in a city, the silence is disconcerting. All in all, it’s pretty awesome.

I love Apple.

I got my Powerbook back from the Apple Store today…  Thank god for AppleCare…   They not only finished it in less time than they quoted me, but they also noticed that myoptical drive was louder than it should be, figured it was close to failing, and replaced that on their own as well…   In an ideal world, hard disks wouldn’t shit the bed, but I abuse this one quite a bit, so it didn’t surprise me that it died… 

Now after restoring my backup I’m pretty much up and running, although I’m reinstalling all the applications, since I don’t back those up..  I teeter on whether or not to backup apps…  When I don’t, I have to go through this bullshit of reinstalling everything (which is made worse by Comcast being not very Comcastic tonight; I can’t get to several sites), but when I do back them up, they end up needing updating anyway, so I figure it’s a good enema…

Update: So I wasn’t crazy, Comcast was, in fact, being less Comcastic last night

Futile attempt to recover my Powerbook disk

Out of the blue last night my laptop’s hard disk died… The machine locked up, I hard rebooted it, but it hung on the Apple logo… I booted it up with my 10.4 system disk and tried to use Disk Utility to repair the disk, but that said it couldn’t fix the problem.. I tried (as you can see in this photo) TechTool Deluxe to try and repair the volume, but that also couldn’t fix things…

I finally decided to try and reformat the disk, but when that didn’t work, I realized the drives number was pulled… Fortunately I have Applecare and I backed up the disk on Thursday… =)

Multi-Track “Survivalism”

Continuing to be very forward-looking, Nine Inch Nails has released the GarageBand multi-track files for their new single Survivalism.  The best part is the little tidbit at the end of the post over at the NIN site:

No strings attached.  Similar to what we did with “The Hand that Feeds” and
“Only”, you now have the ability to completely reconstruct/deconstruct
“Survivalism” any way you choose.  We will soon present details on where you
can upload your own mixes so get to work and have fun with this!

[We plan to release every track on the album this way over the next few
months…  Keep checking back]

Firefox Pro-Tip

I’m not sure if this is documented anywhere, but I stumbled upon a cool keyboard shortcut in Firefox 2.0.  Control-Shift-T will restore (un-close) the last tab you closed.  There is Mac version of this shortcut too, I think it’s Apple-Shift-T, but I don’t have a Mac handy and I can never remember the names of their stupid meta keys, so I’m not 100%.