The Never-Ending Dim-Bulb Brightness Saga Continues


I've posted about it before, but the saga of the random brightness settings on the MacBook Pro continues unabated. Despite multiple patches in the past six months, this heap of fail is still incapable of remember how bright it should be. It's just stupid.

Because it's impossible to set the dumbed-down controls to a precise level - like Windows nVidia control panels allow - I had to guesstimate a ballpark brightness setting (i.e. the third box to the right past the bottom ray of the on-screen sun icon) when I calibrated it and due to the defective Whack OS(u)X crapware, must be vigilant about what my settings are before working because there is no reason to trust the lousy thing. I just opened the lid from the previous session and the screen brightness had maxed out from my previous session in Lightroom. What if I started image editing again without realizing how it had changed in silence.

What is most appalling about the crazed Mac fanchimps are those who burble about how, "it's the only serious choice for graphic artists; nothing else can do what it can do." If they meant that no one can match the sheer crapitude of the Mac for critical work, I'd agree. But these poor sods actually think that Mac is superior when it's clearly broken and they're either too stupid or drunk on the Kool-Aid to recognize how busted their junk is.

Since the fanchimps still try to deflect my criticisms as "hating", I must restate the purpose of this blog and remind you dear readers that when I started the Dirk® vs Mac Project, I was looking to be convinced as to the merits of the over-priced Apple hardware, but as I ran into one usability hassle and performance nightmare after another, the unexpected Truth has come out that this stuff is generally craptastic and the fanchimps are not just stupid, but insane.

Another thing fanchimps yammer about is how superior the hardware is - as if Apple gets the "good" CPUs and components - and how the efficient UNIX-based OS runs on the hardware. Well, that's a lie, too. As I watch the Spinning Beachball of Doom whirl when I try to move from Chrome to Safari and change tabs, it's like using a five-year-old single-core PC with a gig of RAM, not a Core2Duo w/2GB RAM. I've had defenders blame Apple's poor performance on the apps, but that's just more fanchimpism in which all flaws are blamed on third-party applications. These same people happily ascribe third-party app problems on Windows machines as being Microsoft's fault. They're hypocrites on top of their madness and stupidity.

What Do Shortcuts Have To Do With Sydney Bristow?


Another aspect of Apple's broken UI is how difficult it is to do something simple in Windows: make a fraking shortcut. I've been using Guitar Rig a lot lately and figured it'd be convenient to have a shortcut on the Desktop or the Table (aka Dock).

In Windows you can do this by right-clicking any program icon and selecting Create Shortcut. Simple, huh? It's even easier in Win7 when you can pin apps to the Start menu or Task Bar with a right-click or just drag them off the menu.

Well, none of these simple steps are available on the Mac. Dragging doesn't work. There's no shortcut or pin option. Stumped, I asked Google and found this tutorial which lists the four steps to duplicating what a right-click can do in Windows:

To create short cut in Mac OS X, follow the steps below:-

* Launch your Finder, look for the program that you want to create shortcut for.
* Highlight the program by clicking once on the file
* Control + Click on the file (or Right click on the file), and select “Make Alias”
* Once the alias being created, you may drag the alias to desktop or to anywhere you wish
* Done. you’ve just created a shortcut in Mac OS X

** In Windows we call it shortcut, in Mac OS X we call it Alias.
In the upside-down world of Apple, having to do all these steps to do what Windows can do with a right-click is hailed by the Kool-Aid besotted fanchimps as another reason why "Apple just works."

Wrong. It's how Apple makes you needlessly work four times as hard to do the simplest thing. And pay a premium price for the abuse.

Seeking Help From The Helpless Help


With iLife installed (see previous post), I fired up the new GarageBand and was presented with the New Project window. One option is Songwriting. What does that do? I dunno. It's not as if Apple includes manuals with their products. (Because their customers are illiterate morons who can't read, but like to pay a lot to feel special with their shiny gnawed fruit logo products?)

So I fire up the GarageBand Help - which is a usability nightmare because it forces itself to be the top window so you have to minimize it to get it out of the way of everything. (Is Apple afraid their users are too stupid to know where the window went if they clicked on another window and Help disappeared, thus confusing them like a baby from whom you hide an object?) Since I want to know what Songwriting mode is, I typed...wait for it..."songwriting" into the search box. My result?

No help topics were found for 'songwriting'

Just lovely.

Just went ahead to see what it was and was greeted by this screen:

Now what? I'm waiting for it to just work, but it's doing nothing and there's no help available from the Help. I'm starting to hear Johnny Rotten taunting me.

A Trip To Jonestown


Apple announced iLife '11 at their Lion and pony show last Wednesday. The latest updates to iPhoto (which I don't need because I'm a real photographer who uses Lightroom) and iMovie (ditto, because I use Premiere on my Prime-class Win7 desktop) didn't interest me as much as the new GarageBand, the old version I found impenetrably unusable, probably because I foolishly expected it to be capable of doing something useful instead of countering my every effort with layers of candy-coated fail. Seriously. The UI of Mac is such shite that whenever I see people burbling about how easy it is to use, I feel there should be some hotline I can call to have these people snatched and placed in a quarantine zone while awaiting euthanization.

In keeping with Lord Jobs' philosophy of inconvenience and artificial scarcity to provide some allure to the overpriced claptrap - the Apple tax on hardware isn't enough, you have to spend money right and left on software to make it useful - iLife was available only at Apple's stores and site. Amazon, Beast Buy, Micro Center (where I bought the MBP) all had the old version, even after a couple of days. There are only four Apple Stores within an hour of Detroit, but luckily the one closest to my home is only 5-1/2 miles away. Off to the mall I went.

If you aren't familiar with what the Somerset Collection (i.e. upscale malls) is, it's a beautiful glitzy shopping place where people from 90210 or Gossip Girl would buy expensive stuff. Of course an Apple Store would be there. Who else can afford their shiny, overpriced crap? I walked thru Macy's to get to it and since it was about 10 minutes before closing, expecting to blaze in and out.


I wish I could've snapped a photo at the teeming masses of open-mouthed sheeple clustered with glee around all the pretty things, but I figured some anti-non-Apple death ray would zap my EVO. The place was packed and since Apple wasn't releasing some new iGiveSteveMoneyForANewPancreas, it was crazy. As I commented on my Foursquare checkin, "I haven't seen this many stupid sheeple in one place since watching the 2008 Democrat National Convention." I guess the recession hasn't hit everyone yet.

Anyhoo, I found the iLife box - which is 2/3rds air so that it seems substantive when it's just not very green - and looked around for something that looked like a place to pay for it so I could escape this Kool-Aid bar and in keeping with Apple's "never let usability get in the way of looking pretty," couldn't spot anything. I finally found an unoccupied drone, er, "Genius" and he asked, "Would you like to make an appointment?"

"No, I'd like to pay for this (and get the f*ck out of this joint before the Human Millipede assembles itself.)" OK, I didn't say the part in parenthesis. He directed me to the one "register" at the Genius Bar and while waiting to cash out, it gave me a moment to look around at what passes for organic life in a cold aluminum, glass and plastic area.

First, when did they allow fat, slobby people to work at an Apple retail outlet? There were at least three tubby bobos who made Kevin Smith look dapper behind the counter. I always figured Apple would have Armani-clad sales associates in model shape, but these lardbuckets made me look like someone on Mad Men in comparison. Does Steve know who's working his stores or is he too busy calling the Foxconn factory to order new organs and tell them to "make it look like another suicide"?

After waiting five minutes to pay, I beat the retreat, only stopping to look at the iMacs for a friend whose 7-year-old PowerBook G4 was on the edge of death. The Magic Mouse that was with it was another sad chapter in Apple's inability to make a simple f*cking mouse. Sharp, uncomfortable edges; a low-profile that screams, "Next stop, the Carpal Tunnel"; and a slick finish that makes gripping difficult. As the infamous G3 "hockey puck" mouse indicates, to Apple ergonomics means the economics of selling bootleg DVDs of Urgh! A Music War, not making comfortable gadgets.

A zaftig Genius sidled up to me and asked if I had any questions. I contemplated asking her if she had any shame, but figured that'd come off as slightly rude. She was very friendly and personable; it's not her fault she's working for Dr. Evil's Haus o' Glitzy Crap. Well, it is, but people gotta eat and need money for food, so, desperate times lead to blah-blah-woof-woof.

iLife is installing now while I write this on my REAL computer. Stay tuned for joy.

"It Just Works," My Arse!


Last weekend, I've got the following programs open:

* Firefox
* Lightroom

I'm copying photos into Lightroom off my CF card when the screen goes gray and a message says that I need to shut down the computer. Lovely.

That this happened within a couple days of the 10th Anniversary of the OS X public beta beginning and seeing all the articles about all the wonderfulness that was supposedly ushered in by the arrival of the cat-named operating system. I especially enjoyed the supposed feature that if one program crashed, it wouldn't take down the entire system.

Yeah, right.

As I type this, I'm experiencing SBBODs* and lags in characters appearing on the screen in Firefox as the computer lurches and hangs. Awesome.

I've run into a few people at work who have Macs at home and, since they lack the Dark Force-resistance that I do, are utterly convinced they've bought the Greatest Technology Ever. It's all I can do to restrain myself from punching them in the face and calling them stupid. iChumps.

* Spinning Beach Ball of Doom

Stand By For Standby Battery Failure


Sorry for the lack of updates, but since I barely use this barely useful MBP, there's been nothing much to write about it. It's turned into a $1000 netbook for light writing and web surfing. I'm contemplating selling it because it has little functional use that my armory of PCs can't cover.

What prompts this update is its sudden inability to hold a charge while in standby. For as long as I've had it, the one thing I have unqualifiedly enjoyed was the ability to keep it in sleep mode for days on end and open the lid, having it ready to use in a few seconds. However, a couple of weeks ago, I pulled it out, opened it and it didn't start. Hmmm. Tried the power button; nothing. Pressed the battery level test button and got one LED. The battery was dead and needed charging.

After a full charge and sitting connected to the power the whole time at home, I tossed it in my duffel for a weekend at the girlfriend's and other than a brief web surfing session, I didn't use it. Well, tonight, after a week of disuse, I pulled it out, checked the battery and, pfffft, it's nearly dead again.

There was a software point-release a couple of weeks ago, but I don't think it had an effect on sleep mode efficiency (or lack thereof) because the first rundown happen prior, but I'm not sure. A quick Google search was inconclusive, but a battery failure on a less-than-six-month-old laptop would be right in line with Apple's expanding reputation of shoddy workmanship and design, especially with the botch that's been the iPhone 4 (or as I call it "iFone Fore.")

Anyone got any ideas as to what's whacking the battery? Thanks.

Why Is Brightness Control So Dim?


I have a Logitech Illuminated Keyboard on my desktop computer that has four brightness settings for the backlighting. When I shut down the computer and restart it, it remembers where it was set.

On my Dell XPS laptop, I can set the screen brightness for both battery and AC power conditions and it remembers which is which without fail.

In contrast to these Windows machines, the MBP is absolutely random in how it behaves. It will blaze at full battery-gobbling power while unplugged and then run at half-brightness while plugged in. I just noticed that the keyboard backlight was totally off and screen was at 1/2 while plugged in. The room light compensation is disabled, so I don't get what the problem is.

For a computer that's supposed to be the cat's meow for "professional" graphics users who rely on precise display output, the fact that you can't trust that the display is running at proper level is just ridiculous. It's bad enough that this panel requires more profile compensation than any other display I have, but if I was to do any serious photo editing, I'd be at risk of having it all screwed up. I once did several hours work on the XPS with the color profile not applied and it sucks.

Mac Magazines Are Priced Different


Sorry for the lack of updates, but I've been busy and only been really using the MBP for screenwriting with Screenwriter 6 because it is so light and small. A bunch of the keyboard shortcuts that the Windows version has are missing, which is a bit of a drag. However, an interesting plug-in called Streamline, which scans scripts for places where slight edits can pick up substantial reductions in page count is only available for the Mac at this time, so even if I write on one of my Windows machines, I run it thru the Mac's setup to Streamline it.

Anyway, I was looking at the magazine rack at the Big Food Store (aka Costco) when I came across the Snow Leopard Genius Guide, a fairly comprehensive, consumer-level magazine with "178 pages of essential tips and techniques" promised on the cover. It actually looked pretty useful until I flipped back to the cover and looked at the price sticker....


Egads! I've seen plenty of imported computer graphics, Photoshop, and music mags from this outfit on the stands at Borders and they usually run $14-$16, allowing for shipping and exchange rates. But even converting the £12.99 price to good ol' U.S. greenbacks is still a shade under $20, so $30 is a pretty steep tariff for a sub-200-page magazine. I want a 350+ page book for my Jackson and Hamilton. Needless to say, it went unpurchased due to the endemic overpricing of everything connected with Apple products and accessories.

Even Engadget Thinks the USB Port Nonsense is Inexcusable.


It took only 25 days from the date of my purchase for Apple to roll out their 2010 model refresh. The bottom end 13" MBP comes with twice as much RAM (4GB vs. 2GB), a 55% larger hard drive (250GB vs. 160GB) and a slightly faster CPU and longer-lasting battery. I don't really have buyer's remorse because I only paid a grand for mine and so far I'm not wishing I'd dropped a couple of bills more.

Anyhoo, Engadget has a review of the new Core i7-equipped MBP and you only have to get to the 3rd paragraph to find...

Still, we have a few gripes about the design in actual use that we wouldn't have minded Apple addressing in this round...There's also the frustration of the too-close-together and too-few-in-number USB ports of the left side. It's one thing to have only two USB plugs, but when putting a thumb drive in one obscures the other you have a real problem.

Get A Pretty Mac Experience. (Just Pay Up, Chumps!)


I've complained about how ugly OS X is compared to the glassy look of Aero in Windows 7. Well, with CrystalClear Interface, Apple users can get the same look at the cost of $12 and an 82.7 MB download. Too funny.

Hardee-Har-Har, Apple.


While following this easy guide to networking Snow Leopard with Win7 computers - other guides I've seen have been for previous versions (i.e. Leopard OS X 10.5 and Vista), I see what Apple thinks of Windows with this Properties window that comes up on the Mac when looking at a connection to a PC:


Simple HD Editing Showdown - iMovie vs. Premiere Pro CS4


I had the MBP with me at work in the hope of doing a little work on a screenplay if things got slow. They never did enough to focus on writing, but I decided it'd be a perfect chance to see how iMovie was to work with. A previous attempt to edit some footage shot with my Palm Pre smartphone went nowhere due to a horrible sound sync issue with half of the footage. (I'm talking several seconds off; it's nuts.)

I hooked up my Flip Ultra HD which records 1280x720p video and imported a 5-1/2 minute clip of the neat Detroit twee pop group Lightning Love performing a couple of songs at this year's Hamtramck Blowout concert. It was a little confusing getting the clip to actually import into iMovie, but I figured it out. All the previous clips were still in the clip bin and it made for a mess. Why isn't each project giving its own bin without extraneous junk in it?

When I said "simple editing" in the headline, I overstated the complexity of what I'm trying to do. I just want to trim the clip down to the performance of "Everyone I Know" (the beginning is missing because I was moving into position when they started) and add a couple of opening titles and copyright tags.

iMovie doesn't use a timelike like I'm used to and selecting in and out points in the bin is cumbersome. The way you can scrub playback is a neat trick, but it lacks the precision I'm used to in Premiere Pro CS4 and if you have the Help screen up and your mouse passes over footage behind it, it scrubs; an odd bug. Once I got the footage into the project, I realized I needed a few seconds more on the end, but you can't just grab and drag the end out to get more footage. Getting more from the source was also a non-starter.

Clearly iMovie isn't meant for serious editing - that's what Final Cut Express/Pro is for. Fine. Putting the titles on was easy, but controlling the editing of text sizes was a PITA. (My prior career as a typographer makes me super picky about this stuff.) If you don't want to mess with particulars, the presets are slick with automatic fade-ins/outs and decent control for rookies, but the simplicity was constraining.

When it came time to outputting the clip, I tried to use the Share menu to post it to YouTube, but it kept coming back with a vague error from YouTube and closing the dialog. When it reopens, it retained all the info I'd typed in except the lengthy title. Huh? Keywords, yes, but title, no? Stupid. Since it wouldn't upload, I exported a copy and ran into list of size options that weren't very appealing. To export at the same resolution would result in a 170MB file, so I decided to knock it down to 960x540 which would produce a 67 MB M4V file, which is an H.264 format.

Looking at it in iTunes revealed the final product had a lot of blotchy posterization. The video was shot in a darkish K of C hall, but it looked OK in its raw state, so the compression was obviously the culprit. Also, it was sloooooooow to export. Now HD footage is heavy to work with. My old PC and current laptop gagged when trying to work with the Flip files, but the MBP and my current desktop (DIRK V) handled playback handily. However, it took over 6 minutes to export the 2:20 clip - a 3:1 ratio.

For grins, I imported the same source clip into DIRK V and slammed together a similar video (i.e. trimmed to length, added titles, exported) in a fraction of the time - partially due to familiarity with Premiere, but mainly because it's a freaking MONSTER TRUCK compared to the MBP. Here's the tale of the tape between them:

MacBook Pro - Core2Duo CPU @ 2.26 GHz w/2 GB RAM.

DIRK V - Core i7 920 CPU @ 3.8 GHz w/12 GB RAM.

Is it any wonder that it took 2:03 to encode the same length clip - 13% faster than real time - into a native resolution MPEG-4 Video for Flash (.f4v) file that only weighed 27 MB? Nice!!! And I built it for 1/3rd the cost of a comparable Mac Pro tower.

Here are the videos so you can compare the quality of the output. When blown up to full screen (jump to YouTube to see them), the iMovie version is clearly blotchy while the Premiere version is much smoother, though macroblocking is visible. Both are clearly compressed, but Premiere is indisputably superior in quality and in the speed it was rendered. Yes, the DIRK V has a gigantic advantage with four times the CPU threads and six times the RAM, but the poor quality of the iMovie output makes the 3X output time doubly disappointing.

iMovie Version

Premiere CS4 Version

Bottom Line: Despite having slick canned templates and transitions, iMovie is too simple and coarse in its controls for anyone looking to do more than the most basic video editing. Toss in the slow and crummy export and I don't see it supplanting my current workflow. Perhaps Final Cut Express will do better, though it will always suck the DIRK V's wind for sheer number-crunching power.

Check out more Lightning Love at their MySpace page and buy their album which they recorded themselves. I don't like twee pop like Kimya Dawson's Juno soundtrack stuff, but I adore these guys.

Line 6 Install = CRASH! KERNEL PANIC!!!


Well, the invincible Mac rep just took a critical hit has my installation of Line 6 POD Farm forced a reboot that brought up a multi-lingual screen saying the computer needed to be shut down and restarted. After another error on boot, I tried unplugging the TonePort interface and external hard drive and it booted up.

Went to install GearBox (another Line 6 amp sim program) and the installer asked that I plug in the interface. The moment I did, BAM!!! The MBP froze and I had to shut it down again. Nice. Apple must enjoy the kernel panic reports I sent.

With the peripherals left off, I installed and updated the apps and drivers. After several reboots and updates - it didn't help that one page on the Line 6 had one version of the software only for Line 6 Monkey to say a later version was available - it all appears to be loaded and stable. I used the TonePort DI to run Guitar Rig 4 and had a little fun with that. I just wish I had a higher resolution screen so I could see more vertically in the rack.

The Semi-Literate Mac / To Do Anything, Just Add Money


The latest WTF comes with my attempt to read AND write to an NTFS-formatted WD Passport drive. I was trying to transfer a huge (15GB) file and the limitation of FAT32 is 4GB, so I converted the drive to NTFS. That caused a problem with having it read by my Xbox 360 (it only reads FAT32) but where it gets silly is the Mac can't write to a NTFS drive. It can read it, but writing requires third-party apps and some messy-looking hackery that could mess up Mac OS X. Yuck. Every version of Windows from Windows 2000 on can read and write NTFS, but Mac can't.

From what I've seen, it appears that once you stray beyond the iLife apps, you need to start shelling out a lot of money to get this thing to do basic stuff. I was looking at MacLife magazine's special issue at Borders for tips on how to do things and "tip" after tip seemed to be, "If you want to organize this simple thing, get iApp This or iApp that which retails for $29-$99." I can't recall what the C-note app was, but it struck me as being quite exorbitant for what it did.

I haven't looked too far into the freeware app options for the Mac yet, but so far it's a lame introduction. Perhaps they figure that since Mac users are swimming in cash to buy these things in the first place, they won't mind shelling out for add-ons.

Life with Mac Week One (or Rather Weak One?)


It's been a week since taking the plunge; here are some more impressions based on my noodling around.

• The interface is ugly compared to the Aero Glass look of Vista/Win7. Seriously. I tried the Graphite option and the traffic light colored gems turned gray and I didn't know that color scheme would have that effect until I blegged my Facebook peeps.

• Normally I'd type Alt+0149 to get a bullet at the front of this sentence, but I can't find where bullets, etc. are at. Is there an analog to Windows' Character Map?

• These leads to a biggie: The lack of a Start button as Vista/Win7 has really sucks. My laptop is a Vista in which has a double-stacked Task Bar/Quick Launch. Vista introduced the ability to search for programs and documents from the Start button. My self-built desktop runs 64-bit Windows 7 Professional and Win7 introduced a radically changed Task Bar which manages app windows and what not better than anything else. When I read about it, it didn't make much sense and photos don't do it justice, but once you get the hang of it, there's no going back. The Mac interface is just a joke.

For starters, the disconnect between program windows and the menu bar at the screen top leads to confusion as to which program is running. I don't know if it's a bug or a feature, but Cmd-Tabbing cycles thru open apps like Windows Alt-Tab, but releasing the combo results in only the top bar changing; it doesn't bring the selected application to the fore. I've got Firefox open full screen now and Cmd-Tab doesn't nothing to get me into another program; only the menu bar changes. (A program called WindowFlow brings a ersatz Alt+Tab w/preview style to the Option+Tab combo, but it's not perfect and frankly blows compared to Aero Flip and Aero Peek in Win7.

• This leads to the Dock, a monumental waste of space, especially on this 13" display whose problem isn't the size, but the lower resolution. The two Dell lappies I own have WSXVGA (IIRC) screens with 1680x1050 resolution; the MBP has only 1280x800 pixels and that 20% bite makes screen real estate a premium item and the Dock is a giant space hog - no relation to the band Space Hog, the singer of which is Liv Tyler's baby daddy - with its giant cartoony icons sitting there to not frighten the skittish Mac users. They occasionally bounce to show they're happy (or something needs your attention) and have a little dot to show they're active. Perhaps this is less annoying on larger displays, but after 6 months on Win7, it looks really outdated.

Tired of having to click the magnifying glass in the upper-right, I PMed a particularly strident Mac...erm...devotee - she's the one who's dumped me repeatedly for now swearing enough fealty and asked, "I HATE the way when you minimize an app and there's no way to bring it back up other than hitting Expose and clicking it. Cmd-Tab doesn't work and is there a shortcut key combo that can bring up Spotlight? On Vista/Win7, all I need to do is hit the Windows key and start typing; Mac is go click corner. Lame. The Dock is lame compared to the Win7 Taskbar, too."

She replied, to my great surprise, "You are complaining about everything I complained about. There are no key combo's, really and no directions. You're expected to play and learn. Don't be frustrated. It takes about two weeks before you're somewhat comfortable."

What the heck? Isn't THE major selling point for Macs their dead-simple ease of use and ability of non-technical people to pick them up? ORLY?!? Poking around and using a link to Leopard shortcuts - I've got "Snow Kitteh" - I found that Cmd+Spacebar brought up Spotlight, Mac's Swiss Army Search window.

• Micro Center's "Why Your Next PC Should Be A Mac" page has this paragraph:

Every Mac is created with the guiding principle that computers should be easy to use, so you can spend more time doing what you love and less time figuring out how your computer works. If you've never owned a Mac, you may need a little time to get used to it. But within a week, you'll be amazed at how easy it is to maneuver through basic tasks, and you and your new Mac will get along like old friends. Because all Mac applications are designed to work in the same, intuitive way, you'll quickly pick up iPhoto, Mail, or any of the other software that comes with your Mac.
Yeah, right.

• Finally, one selling point from a format-agnostic acquaintance was that he found his Mac lappy to be better suited for recording music (he's an ambient trance techno cat) because Apple takes more care with their audio subsystem hardware. Considering the serious teething pains I've had with my Windows machines, interfaces (Line 6 TonePort DI-G; Lexicon Lambda; E-Mu X-Board 25), and their various driver hassles - that the freeware ASIO4ALL totally smokes Lexicon's drivers is pathetic - I'm down with a computer that allows me to take off my propeller beanie and start working with some Propellerhead software. (Note: I don't have any; just making a punny.)

Since all I have for software is GarageBand, I fired that up and tried plugging in both the MIDI controller and Lambda interface and was frankly surprised to see both come online and function without any drivers, the Lambda displaying its name in GB. I didn't record anything - that I don't get yet - but this is a nice development. The X-Board's controller knobs don't work, but the basic keys and pitch/mod wheel features do.

Starting Up Pt. 2 - What the Heck Am I Doing Here?


I've seen Safari before and other than the ability to resize form fields by dragging, I never cared for it and all my muscle memory for shortcuts is tied to Firefox, so I surf over to the site to download it and hit another oddity: I have no idea where stuff is being saved and how to install programs. What is this .DMG file extension? Where's the .EXEs?

I'm vaguely aware that Mac applications are tidier than Windows in their installation from stories when the iPod came out of people taking them to computer stores, connecting them to the display Macs - an iPod is nothing more than an portable hard drive with audio circuitry and an interface tacked on - and merely dragging copies of application suites like Microsoft Office to their drives and walking out. But how does it work in practice?

Clicking on the file sometimes opens a box that after a couple of times I realized that meant you could drag the icon over to install it to the Applications folder. The funky double-tap click-drag method of the trackpad makes it difficult at first, but I figure it out. Some apps require me to enter the system password I set in the beginning which begs a question: If the occasional click to allow Vista/Win7's UAC (User Account Control) to make system modifications was deemed so onerous that it prompted this mocking Mac ad, how come no one complains about having to type in a password here? What double standard?

I'm going to wrap this chapter up with what can only be called an INCREDIBLY STUPID DESIGN FLAW! The two USB and FireWire MiniDisplay ports are too close together! I put a normal-sized SanDisk Cruzer key drive and it's wide enough to block the adjacent ports. My Inspiron had 4 USB jacks stacked in pairs; my XPS has 3, with two stacked on one side and one alone on the other. The MBP is going to require a USB hub attachment to be fully usable. Wow.

Let's go to the tape!


I wrote my friend, "Nope, the form over function design has this row of jacks on the one side and that's it. You can put two USB CORDS - like a hard drive cable or MIDI keyboard, but not two key drives. My Dells' ports were stacked, not side-by-side, so I can get 3-4 (depending on which one) key drives in, not just one. Then again, this is the outfit that put a single USB port on the MacBook Air. WTF does someone with a wireless mouse do with their receiver dongle? I'm glad I have a Bluetooth mouse from my Dell which also had BT."

Starting Up Pt. 1 - The "Out of the Box" Experience


One of the more loathsome traits of Mac idiots is their tradition of "unboxing photos/videos" in which their new babies are fetishistically removed from their packaging, every step documented by more photos than would be taken if Jesus Christ returned on the stage of the American Idol finale.

Not gonna do it. Here's all you're getting:

Moving on, you open the lid to find the MBP sitting there with a pull tab announcing, "Designed by Apple in California." What they don't tell you is that it was manufactured by brutalized labor in China. (Must not have fit.)

Booting up, the Setup Assistant thing immediately plows into a snag: I can't connect to my wireless network. It sees it and accepts my password, but gives an error. This is most likely because I have my router configured to only accept connections from devices that I've entered the MAC addresses. This keeps people from jacking into my network even if they see it or guess the password. The problem here is I don't see where I can find the MAC address and the only way to get past this is to select that the computer doesn't connect to the Internet. Not an auspicious start.

After trudging thru the rest of the setup, I went into the wireless - whoops, AirPort - setup and looked for the MAC address. Taking a guess that the Advanced button will reveal something useful, I saw a familiar-looking string of characters which would a MAC address on every other piece of tech, but is labeled "AirPort ID" here. I thought the AirPort was the base station/router thing that Apple sold? Nope, it's a proprietary name for a common thing to sow confusion and slavish brand loyalty.

The Trackpad isn't set to accept taps for clicks - you have to press down to click, like a BlackBerry Storm smartphone - so I find the settings and hit the first "Oh, that's cool" thing I've seen so far. When you hover over the various settings, a little window shows a movie of the gestures that action requires. Half-setting, half-multi-touch tutorial, all pretty slick. I'm used to being able to scroll by dragging the right side of the pad on my Dell laptops, but two fingers anywhere - hey, minds out of the gutter! - allows scrolling. Sweet.

Running the Software Update reveals 732.5 MB(!!!) of patches and updates are required including 500+ for OSX patches and nearly 100 for the piggish cash register program that keeps Steve Jobs alive, iTunes. Fortunately, I have a fast cable connection and it will only take 20 minutes to download all this, but if I was on a basic DSL hookup, yikes.

While we're waiting, let's recap some fast impressions:

  • The thing feels as solid as the block of aluminum the case is carved from. I'm used to the flex of the plastic panels on the bottom of my XPS, so this feels hella better from the jump. My old Dell Inspiron 6000 was much sturdier feeling than the XPS in this regard.
  • The instruction manual is a joke. The only reason I was able to sort out the networking hassle was because I knew what I was looking for. Newbies would be on the phone to Apple support. I've noticed with my iPods that Apple documentation is pitiful because they clearly think that to expose their trembling customers to the possibility of trouble would give them nightmares, so they pretend everything will automagically work.
  • Likewise, the paper folder the reinstallation discs are stored is so flimsy, I can see them being accidentally tossed. My XPS came with a freaking BINDER for the manuals, discs, etc. Other than the power cords and a screen polishing cloth, Apple doesn't give you anything.
  • Another snazzy detail is the MagSafe power connector. Instead of a barrel plug which can lead to damage and a pricey repair if the power cord is tripped over, there is a short nub with magnets that holds the power to the laptop and it just pops out if strained. I've replaced motherboards on laptops at work where the power jack was strained by a trip and fall.
  • The backlit keyboard is nice, but my XPS had a black-on-silver keys which made low-light use easy and I've got an illuminated Logitech keyboard on my PC, so the novelty is minor.
  • Here's a HUGE improvement: There's no cooling fan noise!! Due to a defect in the video chip of my XPS, Dell put out a BIOS that really pumped the fan speed under most circumstances and the constant whirring to pump out the heat is a little annoying; my cat curls up on the futon in front of the air vent in the winter. The MBP OTOH is dead silent and I can't see any vent holes. I'm guessing the aluminum ingot body acts as a heat sink.
So far, so-so. The updates are installed - very fast - and now let's get into using it.

Why The Dirk® vs Mac Project?


Hello there. Let me take a moment to explain who I am and what this blog will be about. My nom de cyber is Dirk Belligerent. The reasons for the nickname are unimportant other than it sounds cooler than my birth name, Todd de la Soulananskiowicz.

Why am I blogging about a Mac as if it's a war? Because for some reason I have garnered a reputation as a "Apple hater" or "Mac hater." Despite my protestations otherwise, people are utterly convinced that I would never, ever own an Apple product. I'm not quite sure where this impression came from other than the frequent instances where I've gone after people on the Internet and cast aspersions upon their intelligence, mental health, marital status of their parents, capacity for independent thought, general willingness to be herded and fleeced of obscene amounts of money, and basic ignorance of the proceeding facts. And that they're poofsters.

First some background: I'm old enough to remember when personal computers were a new idea. At my high school, the Computer Sciences class had us on dumb terminals with acoustic coupler modems - younger readers, ask your grandparents about these and be a sweetheart and open their Ensure can for them - connecting to a mainframe at the other high school in town. We were learning BASIC and mostly it was code like this we were writing:

10 INPUT "What is your name: ", U$
20 PRINT "Hello "; U$
30 INPUT "How many stars do you want: ", N
40 S$ = ""
50 FOR I = 1 TO N
60 S$ = S$ + "*"
90 INPUT "Do you want more stars? ", A$
100 IF LEN(A$) = 0 THEN GOTO 90
110 A$ = LEFT$(A$, 1)
120 IF A$ = "Y" OR A$ = "y" THEN GOTO 30
130 PRINT "Goodbye "; U$
140 END

If the rotary phone lost the connection, we were to get the teacher to dial the secret phone number to the mainframe modem. Of course, we sneaky kids learned the number and would hang up the line and dial into proto-BBSes like The Twilight Phone and play ASCII art games. America Online was over a decade away.

In the corner of the lab sat a lonely Apple II computer. We used it to play games like Choplifter. A couple of years after I took the class, I passed by and look in and saw that the terminals had been replaced with a bunch of pizza box Apple IIc units. When IBM introduced the IBM PC in 1981, I remember reading the headline on the front page of the Detroit Free Press and thinking, "Why bother? Apple's already got the market cornered." (I was 14; what did I know?) Even with the revolutionary Macintosh in 1984, Apple simply didn't have a chance in the market due to some critical mistakes.

All along, Steve Jobs goal has to been to have a monopoly on the hardware and software. Bill Gates had offered to secure licensing deals for Apple with manufacturers; Apple would make the OS and computers, Microsoft would make applications for them, everyone gets rich. Because Jobs was too greedy, Apple squandered their technical advantages by pricing their wares out of the reach of the vast majority of people and as time went on, they managed to sink the company to the point that 19 of 20 personal computers sold are non-Mac OS and the attendant ecosphere of applications didn't develop; since all the programs, games, etc. were on PC, people bought PCs. (This is why the irony of Apple touting their tens of thousands of apps for the iPhone is so amusing.)

What saved Apple wasn't their computers (too pricey) or their slick Mac OSX (nothing to run on it) but the creation of the iPod when MP3s were the hot new thing and the iPhone which made smartphones slick and usable. Both were introduced at Apple's traditional OMFG price points - iPod was $500; iPhone was $600 - but as they yielded to market realities, they rapidly garnered market share and tons and tons of money. So radically had they shifted their priorities that they took the "computer" out of their corporate identity and are now known as "Apple Inc."

As Apple computers remained niche items, lauded for their technical excellence and snazzy industrial design with some exceptions (the G3's ergonomic war crime of the "hockey puck" mouse springs to mind), a curious and increasingly frightening "Cult of Mac" grew around the sheer unpopularity of the computers. Sycophantic in their loyalty to Steve Jobs and uncritical of the failings of the products to catch on with the public, they exhibited seriously contradictory pretzel logic where in one moment they boasted of the Jesus Phone's towering market share as proof that Apple was the acme of tech and then proclaim that the utter failure - what else do you call 5-10% market share? - of the computers as further proof of superiority.

When challenged on this cognitive dissonance, they usually fall back on specious reasons like, "I'm willing to pay more for a work of art," or "I'm willing to pay extra to not have viruses; something that just plain works." But that just shows that the Mac is a status symbol, not an unassailable piece of wůndertech. I have a friend you defriended me at least four times in reaction to my comments about the non-divinity of Apple products. Simply put, a lot of Mac users are crazy.

So, with the products overpriced and the users largely unhinged maniacs - to be fair, I have a couple of friends who own and use Macs without wrapping their identities up in the damn things - why the unholy heck am I buying one? For starters, the price suddenly became right. Micro Center was offering a $200 instant rebate on the 13" MacBook Pro dropping the price down to the eminently reasonable $999 price point. (Note: This means "reasonable" for an Apple product; a Dell Studio 15 laptop with twice as much RAM (4GB vs. 2GB) and hard drive capacity (320GB vs. 160GB) as well as a bigger, higher resolution screen (2" and 25% more screen pixels) can be had for the same price.) I had some mad money to spend on a nerd toy and frankly, I knew I'd have a better time slapping the Mac loonies around if I could take the "What do you know? You've never even used a Mac!" argument off the table.

Now, this could lead to charges that I'm going in predisposed to hating the Mac and intend to just bash the thing mercilessly, but there's a problem with that: I've dropped over a grand on this experiment and by the time I add on software and AppleCare (a $250 extended warranty) I'll be a few hundred more in the hole and it's not like I'm going to make money off this project. I could've kept supposedly hating Apple and Macs - even my girlfriend reacted to my plan with, "Doesn't this go against everything you stand for?" - for free and been done with it. I don't need a Mac for anything I currently do. The only program that Mac has that PC doesn't is Final Cut and I wasn't about to buy a Mac to get one program just as I wouldn't buy a Playstation 3 to play a specific game.

One last bit of info about me; I'm more technically adept at computers than most users and specifically the total newbies that Apple is targeting. I've built my own desktop - actually under-desk towers of power - for over a decade and know a lot about troubleshooting and repairing hardware and OS issues. That said, this has all been in the PC world, I will be coming to the Mac as green as the schmo who wanders in off the street and leaves with his wallet a lot lighter, his head filled with the illusion that he is somehow a better person due to his purchase.

I don't know where this journey is going to end up, but sometimes you just need to take a trip. Follow along, won't you? Feel free to comment and/or offer tips in the section below.

Thanks for reading!