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!