Monthly Archives: January 2008

More MacBook Air…

Apparently my blog is all MBA, all the time…

The response to the MBA has been interesting. Even some of my favorite Mac fans, like Merlin Mann of 43 Folders, don’t like it. Well, actually, what I believe Merlin said was that the MBA was “a great fourth computer for rich people” or something like that. I think, though, that much of the criticism is missing the point. I was going to write about how and why it is missing the point, but The Macalope and lonelysandwich took care of it already.

My MacBook Air…

Our faculty development program — through which we receive our periodic computers — announced MacBook Air laptop models today, and I ordered one.  As I described previously, I didn’t really need a new computer, but I have to get one now or wait at least 3 more years, so I figure that I have nothing to lose.  But, as I have further considered it, I actually believe that a MacBook Air may be perfectly adequate for the vast majority of my computing, particularly the work-related computing.

My work-related computing consists primarily of: Email, Web Surfing, Calendaring, Writing (Text Files, Presentations, and Word Processor Documents), and Reading/Editing (PDF Files, Presentations, and Word Processor Documents).  The MacBook Air will be a perfectly sufficient computer for all of these tasks.  It will also be a great computer for making presentations, teaching, travel, and lugging back and forth to work.

The main limitations of the Air are the processor power and storage space (and, maybe, the lack of connectors).  I do very few work-related tasks that require either of these.  After all, I have graduate students to do processor-intensive computing.  And my storage needs are almost exclusively related to non-work endeavors (music, photography, etc.).  In fact, virtually the only work-related task that I could think of that requires more computer than the Air can provide is using a Windows Virtual Machine to open Office documents containing Macros.  (A VM requires too much storage space.)

I do have other uses for processing and storage (mostly storage), related to home life and hobbies.  The main thing that I need a Virtual Machine for is actually running Quicken for Windows.  (Interestingly, Intuit announced a new Mac product at Macworld.  It sounds more Mac-like than their current offering, including gratuitous use of Cover Flow, but as I understand it, it won’t be backwards compatible with the current Quicken for Mac or cross compatible with Quicken for Windows.  I think this sounds like a horrible strategy, but I’m not surprised.)   I also need storage for photography and, to a lesser extent, music.  I’m perfectly content to continue using my current MacBook Pro for these things, with the eventual plan to get an iMac or the like for the home front.  And I can use my iPod to take my music to work, freeing up the space on my Air for other things.

This really leaves only the need for a backup strategy.  I’m thinking something network-based, most likely.  But I have the investigation of backup options as an action item for my lab already, so I’ll probably explore this issue at the same time.

In a perfect world, I probably would have waited a while.  At the least, I expect to see the available storage in the Air to increase in the fairly near future.  But this is not a perfect world, and this is the only opportunity that I’ll have to try the Air, with no real risk, for at least three years.

Even though I “ordered” my Air today, I won’t have it for a while yet.  The computers won’t be ordered by the university until the end of January or early Febuary.  And, once they are delivered, they will have to go through university processing.  So, the earliest that I expect to see my shiny new Air is early March — too late for my big trip this semester which is in mid-February. But, I’m looking forward to trying the subcompact notebook lifestyle.  And, I’m starting to think that it just might work for me.

Macworld Keynote Review

Everyone has opinions about today’s Macworld Keynote. I’m no different…

Time Capsule is cool. (I especially like the name.) I can easily see buying one of these for the house at some point. We have no backup solution for Becky at the moment, and this would be a logical choice. It would also allow us to share the printer, which would be nice.

The iPhone/iPod updates are neat, and I think I would be excited about them if I already owned one of these devices. Since I don’t, though, and since I was hoping for an announcement on new iPhone hardware, this doesn’t really do much for me. Well, actually, maybe it does one thing — it makes the iPod touch a potential substitute for the iPhone. But, I’m not ready to go there unless the SDK and most of the new apps that start coming out for the iPhone also support the iPod Touch. And, frankly, the cell phone integration is still worth quite a bit to me, as I’m not keen on carrying an additional new device. So, we’ll see.

I don’t have much to say about the movie rentals. We don’t see many movies these days. The price is fine by me, and so are most of the restrictions. But I agree with many that the 24 hour viewing period is problematic, for the reasons described here.

The other aspect of the movie rentals, though, was the announced (software) upgrade to the AppleTV. When the AppleTV came out last year, it was of no interest to me. With the new features allowing the AppleTV to stand alone, though, it’s a little more interesting to me than it was. I still don’t see us getting one any time soon, but it’s a more compelling product now, at a very attractive price.

I’m intrigued with the MacBook Air. If it is offered as an option for my new computer, I’ll be hard pressed not to try it. For a long time, I have stuck to the one-computer-to-rule-them-all (OCTRTA) philosophy. To me, this basically means that I keep all my stuff (personal and work) on a single laptop which goes with me more-or-less everywhere. No synchronizing files across multiple machines or leaving important files behind. This has served me well. But lately, I have been trying to lighten my load in many ways. (There’s the ongoing weight loss efforts, the clutter clearing in my home office, and my plan to become one of those guys who can travel the world with one small carry-on bag.)

I feel that my internet connectivity is almost good enough to support an approach that doesn’t require lugging all of my digital stuff with me everywhere I go. It’s rare these days that I’m in a place that I couldn’t connect to the internet to “phone home” to my desktop if I really needed something. This would be particularly true if I got an iPhone. Moreover, the people that I have known with subnotebooks are completely smitten with them.

There are some clear downsides, though. First, the performance on the MacBook Air isn’t great. My MacBook Pro is running a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo; the Air will have a 1.6 or 1.8 GHz processor. I have 4 GB of memory; the Air will have 2 GB. I have a 200 GB drive; the air will have an 80 GB drive. (Incidentally, no one seems to know why Apple didn’t put the 1.8″ 160 GB drive that is in some of their iPods in the Air. Very strange. I expect it will be an option eventually.) Second, using a subcompact notebook would require a significant change in my work habits. The nicest thing about the OCTRTA strategy is you don’t have to think about where to put things — everything just goes on one computer. So, in addition to deciding what data to offload, I might also need to think about offloading some applications, and I might need to buy some more software licenses… Which leads to the third issue: A subnotebook strategy would require additional hardware, because the Air is clearly designed to be a secondary computer. I suppose that I could use my MacBook Pro as the Air’s big brother, but it seems like a desktop would be better suited to the task. And I think the Air would really call for at least an external monitor at home. (I don’t currently have an external monitor/keyboard/mouse at home.) And my current backup strategy requires a FireWire port, which the Air doesn’t have.

So, it’s a difficult issue involving much more than just trying a new laptop. Gruber has a good summary of the Air versus other available Apple laptops.

More Randomness…

The new MacHeist bundle is out and available for about two more weeks. Since I recently mentioned buying the bundle last year, I thought that I would point out this new incarnation. I personally am leaning away from purchasing the bundle this year, mostly because we’re trying to save money. There are a few apps therein that I would like to try out, but the only one I’m really interested in is 1password, and I had basically decided a couple weeks ago not to buy it for the time being. (I primarily use Camino as my browser, and Camino’s password management, while a bit spotty and occasionally annoying, is tolerable.)


I pay almost zero attention to the talking heads and political pundits of the world. It helps that I don’t watch TV, but I tend not to read their columns, either. But even I’m not clueless enough to have missed the way the pundits have beaten up on Hillary Clinton regarding her “moment” in New Hampshire. Get a freakin’ grip, people! I heard the tape several times on NPR and what I heard was, God forbid, a moment of authentic human emotion from a presidential candidate. If you want to say that she was inauthentic, then fine. But to say that it had anything to do with the fact that she is a woman? Or to psycho-analyze the people who have cited this moment as a reason they voted for Hillary on Tuesday? Like I said: get a freakin’ grip. While I personally think it is nice to see a bit of humanity from a candidate every once in a while, I think it has almost nothing to do with her ability to be president. Good grief. I like the Tom Toles cartoon that Medley posted.

Update: Krugman Agrees


Got a bottle/can cozy through campus mail today as a thank you gift from a group that I help out during the summer. No idea what I’ll do with it, though, since the only thing I’m drinking from a can or bottle these days is the rare beer.


Here’s another doomed political prediction: Both parties will basically be down to a two-candidate race before the big shindig on Feb. 5.


Anyone have any advice on a good personal laser printer? Ideally one that you have used with a Mac, but if you make a general suggestion then I can do some digging on Mac support.

I previously had an HP LaserJet 1300 in my office. It was a good little printer. No real complaints, until I switched to Mac. The Mac driver was lame and wouldn’t do the pseudo-duplexing allowed under Windows. (Under Windows, the printer would print a stack of pages, which you then moved back to the in-feed tray. Then, the printer would print the other side.)

So, when my lab needed a new printer and I saw that HP had “upgraded” this line to the LaserJet 1320, which offered real duplexing, I bit. I moved my LJ 1300 to the lab, where it is still serving admirably, and got the LJ 1320 for my office. But this printer has been giving me a lot of grief. It often refuses to print various pages of documents because it says that it’s memory is full. I suspect that this, too, is a driver problem of some sort (because there’s really no excuse for a printer who’s memory can’t hold a single page of text and graphics — it supposedly has 16 MB of memory), but I don’t know the details .

Most people seem to agree that Epson is setting the standard for high quality photographic output with their inkjet printers, but here I’m looking for something different: a black and white laser printer that can handle a variety of academic and business documents. Suggestions?

Insanely Annoying…

This morning, I noticed that the left arrow key wasn’t working on my laptop.  Then, I went to my office, where I use an external keyboard, and forgot about it.  Tonight, neither the left nor the down arrow are working.  I’m not sure if the down arrow was broken this morning and I didn’t notice or if the problem (whatever it is) is somehow spreading.  I never would have guessed that the lack of two arrow keys could be so drive-me-around-the-bend annoying.

I suppose it is covered under warranty, as I am still under warranty with this machine, but who wants to go without their computer for a few days for warranty service?  Does anyone know if the Apple Store will swap out a machine and/or fix this sort of problem in store?  I don’t have AppleCare, if that makes a difference.  I have seriously considered upgrading to AppleCare, though…  And might still if it meant that I could just swap this baby out when I’m in Northern Virginia in a few weeks…

In other, happier, Mac news, doing a clean install of Leopard seems to have solved my laptop’s sleep issues completely.  Even with a perfectly functional sleep mode, though, the Intel machine takes much longer to go to sleep than my old PowerBook.  A couple of times a day I find myself impatiently staring at the machine, waiting for the sleep indicator to start peaceful pulsating, so that I can throw it in the bag and go.

Election 2008

I’m paying somewhat less attention to the election this time around.  I’m somewhat interested, but none of the candidates have really captured me.  To give you an idea of my level of interest, I’m following the news and some pseudo-political blogs, but I’m not following any pure-politics blogs, and I haven’t even stayed up for any primary results…

Here’s my prediction (historically, my political predictions are completely wrong):  I predict that both parties’ candidates will basically be determined by the primaries on Feb. 5 in a pseudo-national primary.  This is more democratic than the usual method,  but it gives tremendous advantage to those with big war chests.