Month: October 2010

Cory Doctorow on self-publishing his latest book

Sci-Fi’s Cory Doctorow Separates Self-Publishing Fact From Fiction

Listen to the interview, it’s quite interesting.

The short of it: he’s trying a many things in parallel hoping that they’ll add up to more than the traditional single publishing method alone. I think he’s on to something and people in the music, photography or even consulting areas should take note if they aren’t doing things like this already.

Why touch typists are attracted to the MacBook Air

Typing Errur? Your Fingers Know Even When Your Brain Doesn’t

As a touch typist the full size keyboard with decent tactile feedback on the MacBook Air is extremely important to me. As I write this I’m using all of my fingers, looking at the screen and I can feel and see mistakes as they happen. The iPad keyboard (and probably any on-screen keyboard), while fine for casual typing, doesn’t allow for the kinesthetic feedback necessary to feel mistakes as they happen.

Of course, we have built in spelling checkers that underline things to let us know we’ve erred or we can check things after the fact but, call me old fashioned, I still prefer to feel the words coming out of my fingers and I can feel both correct spelling patterns and mistakes as they happen.

Disaster and Air change my computer strategy

I’ve been a MacBook Pro user and before that a PowerBook user since there have been portable Macs. I moved to having a PowerBook as my sole machine many years ago and a 15″ MacBook Pro has been my only computer since they came out. My current three year old 15″ MacBook Pro is one of the last models before the line went unibody and I’ve been considering an upgrade for a while now.

Yesterday afternoon I was doing some work downstairs with my MacBook Pro and was finished and ready to cook dinner. So, I closed the computer, walked upstairs to the office, opened the computer thinking I’d connect one of my externals and do a SuperDuper backup like I do every evening at the same time. When I opened the computer the optical drive made its typical noise but the machine didn’t wake up. I tried hitting the brightness button on the keyboard, waking it up with key hits, and then after trying every method I know to wake a stubborn MacBook Pro, I did a keyboard/power button reset. The machine’s optical drive made its sound but all I heard afterward was a click of the hard disk, a small flash of the sleep light, and the computer was dead.

I pulled the battery and unplugged it and held down the power button for 5 seconds to reset the power manager and that didn’t help either. I attempted to connect a backup firewire drive to it and hold option down to boot off the external but it didn’t get far enough into the boot process to recognize the other drive.

In short, I was in trouble. I wasn’t sure at that point if I’d crashed the hard disk or something else happened but that was the end of what I felt I could do.

Miniaturization isn’t always good
One of the liabilities of using a portable computer is the miniaturization of its components relative to iMacs and Mac Pros and between smaller hard disks, energy saving powering the machine up and down, and moving the computer around, components take a bit more of a beating than they do on the larger machines. Apple builds this increase in liability into the cost of AppleCare which is a lot higher on portable Macs but that’s never stopped me from buying it. I’m glad I have.

I called AppleCare and told them what happened and the very polite guy on the other end told me it might not be the hard disk, it might be the logic board and he made an appointment for me at the Apple Store in Danbury, Connecticut (my favorite local Apple store) and they would attempt to diagnose the problem before sending it in.

I made dinner and watched a movie to get my mind off of it but I was seriously bummed last night.

Luckily when these things happen my wife gladly loans me her 13″ unibody iBook (I’m using it now) and I had a SuperDuper backup from the day before that was bootable and so, I was back in business in a few minutes, minus some things I’d done during the day yesterday. Before going to bed I made sure that I could continue working on this setup and used MobileMe to pull down the few updates I’d made to my address book and calendar yesterday so those things are synced. I also tried to remember what I’d done during the day and updated a few files that I knew I’d worked on. My guess is no matter what happens to the MacBook Pro hard disk I’ll be fine.

I figured that this trip to the Apple store would also give me a chance to see the new MacBook Airs and see how readable their screens are relative to the iPad or to a 13″ or 15″ MacBook Pro.

MacBook Air
I walked into the Apple store early for my appointment and immediately went over to a table full of new MacBook Airs, both 13″ and 11″ models.

Each of these machines is spectacular in its own right. They’re both paper thin, very light, very sleek and extremely attractive. I was tempted to just buy one on the spot, seriously.

I shut both of them down and started them up to see how the solid state boot process worked and it’s very fast, amazingly fast. The 13″ which has a faster processor felt a bit zippier but for what most people will use these for they’re both fine. The 13″ as had been stated in many reviews, feels as fast as a MacBook Pro. It really does.

I then got both of them set up the way I’d be using them:

1. Changed desktop to a light blue instead of Apple’s space scene

2. Made the dock hide

3. I ran Safari and made the window fill the entire screen to give each an iPad like feel.

I went to this web site (Richard’s Notes) and read the last post. On the 13″ model, which has the same resolution as a 15″ MacBook Pro things were smaller than they look to me here on this MacBook (which is similar to my older 15″ MacBook Pro). Not too small to read but a bit smaller for sure. On the 11″ model, which also has a very high resolution screen, things shrunk more, a lot more.

But, and this is a big but, I didn’t find either of them unreadable. In Safari hitting Command + will increase text size and one size up on the 11″ did the trick. The 13″ could be left alone although it too was a lot easier to read in Safari with an increase of one text size.

I also tried using the Monitors control panel to reduce the resolution on each of them but using any of these machines in resolutions other than their native resolution seems to play havoc with antialiasing on text and I think the better solution for the cleanest screen is to increase text size in Safari rather than mess with native resolution.

I was able to hold onto these two MacBook Airs and walk over to an iPad and launch Safari and pull up my web site. The iPad in landscape orientation was just as readable as the 13″ without text size adjustment but the 11″, which compares with the iPad in footprint is a bit tougher to read. Again, the fix is simple in Safari although in other applications may be more complex.

Bottom line, I’d love to have either model of MacBook Air but if I had to choose one today I’d choose the 13″ model as it would be more universally useful to me and more readable.

But, that wasn’t the end of my exploration at the Apple store.

Back to the iMac
Given that I’ve just had a hardware failure on a 15″ MacBook Pro, my only computer, which gets used for everything all day long and given that it’s three years old, coming to the end of its life, and given that “cloud computing” with MobileMe, my iPhone and maybe an in between device like an iPad or a MacBook Air is starting to come into sharper focus, it seems like it’s time to toss the entire scenario up in the air again and come up with some other solutions.

If one isn’t going to be a one computer guy, what kinds of things could one do with the approximately $4000 it would cost to get a new high end 15″ MacBook Pro and a 27″ Apple display (with AppleCare on both).

Well, one could buy a 21″ iMac with a Core i5 processor, 8 gigs of memory, 2 terabytes of hard disk space and AppleCare for $2218. This gives you a very fast computer, a big monitor, bigger components, and cheaper AppleCare for a very decent price.

One could add to that a “low end” 13″ MacBook Pro with 4 gigs of memory and 250 gigs of storage for $1448. Maybe buy a low end iPad for the plane and have the small MacBook Pro and iPad as a traveling kit.

Or, one could add the 13″ MacBook Air with 4 gigs of memory, 256 gigs of flash storage and AppleCare for $1948.

Or, could could add the 11″ MacBook Air for a bit less money.

The Guy with the MacBook Air
After I started thinking about these things and then walked over to the 15″ MacBook Pro that I thought might be my next machine, it looked like a huge brick compared with the MacBook Air models or even its 13″ MacBook Pro cousin.

Wow, it may be that my days of being a 15″ MacBook Pro user are coming to and end. This is huge for me. I mean, if Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) uses a 15″ MacBook Pro as her sole computer, that’s about as cool as it gets, right? This is what I’ve been doing for years and years. But, my guess is that if Stieg Larsson had lived to write more books, Lisbeth would be using a MacBook Air in future episodes.

If I get an iMac that takes the pressure off of a single portable computer being a jack of all trades. The portable device can potentially be more like an iPad and be primarily a “reader” and only secondarily a creator.

While I’m not happy that my computer failed, I’m not sure I’d have come to this new place in my thinking about these things had I simply seen the MacBook Air models, as amazing as they are. I also had to reconsider the idea of having a desktop computer, not just for the big screen or lower price, but also for its durability.

I’m not sure I’ll be doing this entire change at once or when I’ll actually start doing it, but in reality, I could easily walk into an Apple store today and buy both the iMac and some kind of portable computer “companion” and be done with it.

Those are my notes. I’ll have more to add to this tomorrow after spending a day in New York with a friend who will be carrying an iPad. We plan to get to at least one Apple store in addition to the photo expo at Javits. Stay tuned.

MacBook Air screen resolutions and readability

New Macs’ resolutions

I haven’t gone to see the new MacBook Airs at the Apple store yet, I will tomorrow, but this article is stating what I feared on reading the technical specs of both the 11″ model and the 13″ model: The screen resolution is so high that they’ve shrunk everything making it difficult to read.

On a 11″ MacBook Air, a 72-pixel line—which would measure 1 inch long against an onscreen ruler—is just 0.53 physical inches long. On a 21.5″ iMac, that same line is 0.70 inches long. User interface items, like buttons, menu items, and scroll bars are 30% bigger on the iMac than on the Air.

I’ll look at both the two Air screens, a MacBook screen, an iPad screen and an iMac screen. Readability is important to me, even knowing that I can increase the size of text on a browser. I like to keep text size as the web designer set it so that all elements look right next to one another.

I have to say, readability trumps having a hardware keyboard.

[via Daring Fireball]

Thinking of the MacBook Air as an iPad with a keyboard

The Air’s Spot in the Lineup

John Gruber has laid out my exact thinking about how the Macintosh lineup works. If you want a portable Macintosh as your sole computer, the MacBook Pro is the way to go. Probably the 15″ model, high end everything would be best. You can add an external monitor later if needed.

On planes, especially in coach but really, anywhere, this computer, even in its 13″ version is bulky, tough to get out of the way when food comes, and only the latest models can make it across country on a charge without external power.

For planes an iPad is the way to go and on my recent flights to and from Los Angeles I saw dozens of iPads in use on the planes. I’m not kidding, there were over thirty in use on the way out, even more on the return (I saw two new model MacBook Airs at the airport in LA). However, if one wants to do some typing on planes, the new 11″ Air is a great way to go because the keyboard is built in and folded, it’s the size and only a bit heavier than an iPad.

If you think of the 11″ or even the 13″ MacBook Air not as MacBook Pro alternatives but as iPad alternatives with a keyboard, you won’t judge their lack of RAM and processor speed harshly because you won’t be using them as primary computers, you’ll be using them as you would an iPad. And, thinking of them this way will allow you to buy lower speed processors in them because you’re not going to be using them for high end tasks, just the kinds of things you might do with an iPad.

If you’re a hunt and peck typist and avoid typing as much as possible, the iPad’s on screen keyboard won’t be an issue for you. I touch type and I like a full size, hardware keyboard if I can have it and I’m willing to pay for it. So, let’s put the iPad and the 11″ MacBook Air next to each other and see what’s what.

iPad: iOS, apps, connect through iTunes or the camera connection kit, no iSight camera yet, bluetooth or dock keyboard extra, solid state, instant on, everything is autosaved in iOS.

64 Gig iPad, Camera Connection Kit, Apple wireless keyboard, iPad Case, AppleCare: $935

11″ MacBook Air: Mac OS, Macintosh applications, 2 USB ports, display port, built in keyboard, solid state, instant on, standard saving of documents under Mac OS.

64 Gig 11″ MacBook Air, AppleCare: $1248
128 Gig 11″ MacBook Air, AppleCare: 1448

I could load ripped movies onto each of these devices, get and send email, browse the web, connect to my mobileMe account, track my RSS feeds and Twitter feed.

Yes, one could buy an iPad with less memory and make the price offset even greater but loading music and images and a few movies and some apps take space. I’d rather buy that space up front on any of these machines.

When you fold up an 11″ Air it’s very much like an iPad in its case and not all that heavy. This really appeals to me along with the idea of not holding it up for reading which seems to tire me out more than putting it on my lap. A screen with hinged keyboard can more easily sit on a lap and I don’t enjoy typing on the iPad with a wireless keyboard when the iPad isn’t on an easel. I’ve tried it, it’s awkward for me.

I haven’t touched a MacBook Air yet and until I do I’m sitting on my hands. But, I’m quite sure that I’ll be getting an iPad or a MacBook Air before I make my next trip across the country.

Stay tuned.