Category Archives: Macintosh

Keyboards, touch typing, dictation

Shawn Blanc has done some research on keyboards for the Macintosh and written an exhaustive piece on using them as a professional writer: Clicky Keyboards. It’s not clear from the piece if Shawn is a touch typist but my guess is he is.

In 1985 I witnessed my friend Steve Splonskowski (still in college) typing at lightening speed on the awful Macintosh 128K keyboard. He was looking at the screen and typing away and it was a thing of beauty. I wanted to type like that so I bought a copy of the keyboarding instruction program “Typing Intrigue” and started playing the rain game (type a letter as it falls from the top of the screen) and quickly moved on to typing odd practice sentences.

At that time I was starting to contribute articles to early computer magazines and between that writing and early email with AppleLink, bitnet and a few other email networks I had enough of a writing load so that within a few weeks I was able to leave hunting and pecking behind. Once I’d made the transition to touch typing my speed and accuracy went down for a while but as I felt more confident and kept my eyes comfortably on the screen and my writing the feedback loop between fingers and brain got tighter and faster. The more writing, the better it got and as a person who had avoided writing for most of my life, a computer and touch typing was like opening a dam: writing spilled out of me on a daily basis.

The way to become a better writer is to write more. If improving your writing tool (a keyboard, a pen) helps then improve it.

Touch typing has changed my life by being one (important) part of the process of getting my ideas outside my head and encoded into writing. Before computers, keyboards, and touch typing my image of myself did not include “writer.” Here’s a now dated piece I did on the mechanics of this experience: How Computers Change the Writing Process for People with Learning Disabilities.

At some point, maybe after I’m compost, touch typing will probably go the way of cursive handwriting but until then it’s a useful skill to have and if you have it the layout and feel of your keyboard is an important part of your writing experience.

One of the things that will send keyboards and with them, touch typing to their grave is dictation: being able to talk to your computer, iPad, iPhone or whatever and have the device type out (encode) your voice. We used to call this “speech to text” or “speech recognition” but the single term “dictation” will no doubt supplant those awkward phrases.

I bought a new iPad (3) for one reason (not the screen): it has dictation capabilities. I’ve been using dictation quite a bit on my iPhone 4S and I’m finding it quite useful and it’s quite good on the new iPad as well. However, it’s a very different writing experience from touch typing and so, my brain is making a feeble attempt to adapt. I really like the tight feedback loop that happens with touch typing and dictation is a different kind of experience. We’ll see how touch typists like me adapt (or not).

No doubt we’re in transition: I’m touch typing this on my MacBook Pro’s keyboard which works quite well for me and for any longer piece of writing/editing I’ll probably be using this tool but for a lot of the other writing I do I’ll just as easily be using the iPad or iPhone with dictation (or with their awful but useable onscreen keyboards).

Apple’s Secret Plan For Its Cash Stash

Apple’s Secret Plan For Its Cash Stash

Connie Guglielmo at Forbes has written an excellent piece that looks like it’s a roadmap for Apple for the next few years: after adding more retail stores, server farms, a new campus in Cupertino, paying dividends, and buying a few companies to expand research and development, she thinks they’ll start buying pieces of their own supply chain. Tim Cook has done things like buy up huge quantities of Gorilla Glass from Corning, LCD screens from Samsung, and flash memory from a variety of vendors which gets him what he needs to build millions of devices a quarter but also gets him lower pricing and locks competitors out of both the pricing and the parts. Going a bit further into ownership of pieces of the supply chain with its huge pile of cash seems like a real possibility.

[via Asymco]

Magic Mouse magic

I’ve been using an Apple Magic Mouse for a while and it works quite well for me, until, it doesn’t. Let me explain.

Bluetooth connection
The Magic Mouse connects to one’s Macintosh computer via Bluetooth, a short range wireless protocol. I routinely carry my MacBook Pro to other places in my house leaving my Magic Mouse behind and when I return the Magic Mouse does not automatically connect. Every once in a while it does but it’s rare. I can connect by going to the Bluetooth menu, choosing Richard’s Mouse, and choosing connect but there’s an easier way to connect the now disconnected but running Magic Mouse:

Click the mouse.

I can’t believe I never knew this. No doubt you did but in case you didn’t try it.

Battery corrosion
Recently my Magic Mouse started tracking badly, very much like an old Apple mouse with a dirty “ball” (yes, old mice had balls, well, one ball). So, I went up to the Bluetooth menu to see what the charge on the Magic Mouse’s batteries were. They showed 100%. Still, I decided to swap the batteries out for a new set and upon putting in the new set the mouse tracked perfectly. This seemed odd to me so I took out the new batteries and replaced the old and the mouse continued to track perfectly.

Uh oh.

This discussion at Ask Different led me to the answer: Magic Mouse disconnects randomly.

Specifically, the discussion of batteries in the first answer by Coyote.

It seems that the battery contacts in a Magic Mouse can become corroded over time and simply taking the batteries out, or, more simply, rotating them in place, can clean enough of the corrosion off to make a better contact.

When I put my original (seemingly bad) batteries back in, I had changed their position and made better contact.

This is amazingly simple and no doubt related to my post and thousands of comments on Canon DSLR error 99 problems being caused by corroded body/lens contacts.

Battery level
While you’re up in the Bluetooth menu you may notice that your mouse is showing a battery level of 100% but the alkaline batteries you have in it are a month old. How is this possible? Another excellent discussion at Ask Different explains: How is the battery level calculated in the magic mouse? and explains why my Magic Mouse was showing 100% charge on its Duracells even as they were a month old.

Bottom line: with alkaline batteries installed in the Magic Mouse, the mouse’s battery level indicator is like a car gas tank that reads full until you have a few miles left.

Messages beta

Apple has finally started to unify their instant messaging universe. Many of us have been using iChatAV for years and have come to depend on it. Not everyone signed up and had an AIM account in the early days (AOL was and remains disdained by the power user types) although in time Apple allowed the use of a .mac address to use iChatAV and it worked and works well to this day.

In the iOS world Apple has had texting via cellular networks on the iPhone and with iOS 5 they’ve combined texting over cellular with an iChatAV-like application called Messages that unifies both cellular texting and IP-chatting. It works extremely well on both the iPhone and the iPad saving a considerable amount of money when one is on a wifi network by not using cellular minutes during that time.

There was no way to connect iChatAV on the Mac and Messages on iOS devices until now. Apple has finally released a beta of Messages for Mac OS X Lion that will ship for real with the next Lion update called “Mountain Lion.”

I’m using the beta now and it’s a wonderful improvement over the old iChatAV. I’m connected to my iPhone, my AIM buddy list, and all my cellular contacts. Very cool.

You can download it here: Messages beta.

[via Zapong]

Speculation on future AppleTV

Guy English: How I’d Build an Apple Television Set

The piece of Guy’s essay that appeals to me most is this:

So if you’re in an Apple based household the odds are good that your new Apple TV will be able to talk to one of your other devices and get the required network info from it. I’d bet heavily that this capability makes its way into AirPort devices and Macs. “Want to let this device on your network?”, is exactly the level of simplicity that Apple tends to aim for.

Setting up and using an AirPort network is much simpler than any of the other wifi routers I’ve played with over the years and my guess is that Apple is going to continue to make it simpler to add new devices to the network, including the AppleTV. It’s easy now and it will be even easier which is part of the puzzle of making a living room appliance that’s easy to use and integrate with other devices you already own.

I’m not entirely convinced that Apple will get into the flat panel TV business but I’m convinced that they’ll expand the capabilities of the current AppleTV, turning a Sony or Samsung flat panel TV set into a dumb HD screen, which is fine by me, I hate the menus on my Sony Bravia.

[via Steve Splonskowski]

Susan Kare

The Sketchbook of Susan Kare, the Artist Who Gave Computing a Human Face

I first posted about Susan Kare here: Making the Macintosh Project but I’ve known about her since the mid-1980′s because both her icon and font designs were the “face” of the original Macintosh and stayed with us for close to ten years.

She makes and sells limited edition prints: Susan Kare: limited edition prints and has a professional web site for her design work: Susan Kare: user interface graphics.

Ask Different

Ask Different

Ask Different is a brilliantly built discussion site that allows people to ask questions about their Apple products and get a variety of answers and tips from others.

I first heard about it back here and I decided to subscribe to its RSS feed for a while to see what kinds of questions and answers were being put up.

In short order I figured I might be able to answer a few of the questions so I registered and posted an answer. That led to another and pretty soon I was hooked, less on being a know-it-all (I know much less than most people posting there) but on the challenge of attempting to explain in words the answers to various questions (one can also post screen shot images there).

Questions and answers are rated, much like Amazon or eBay reviews might be and in this case it’s less about a popularity contest, more about helping folks find the credible sources and to support well written questions and answers. Brilliant.

I’ve learned quite a bit from this feed, not just answers to my own technical questions but also about the types of questions and problems people are having in the Apple world. Ask Different could easily turn into a more up to date and fluid source than Apple’s support area or Wikipedia (Apple products) for these types of things. Certainly a parallel source for more specific questions.

Many of my Mac and iOS using friends who read this blog could easily become addicted to this so I’m warning you, be careful.

Phonetic pronunciation field

I just read on Shawn Blanc’s site about a new field in iOS 5′s Contacts app for adding a phonetic pronunciation of a name so that Siri gets it right.

That same field is in the Address Book in Mac OS 10.7.2 so you can add those phonetic equivalents for your iPhone 4S and Siri on your Mac if you like, syncing through iCoud.

Add the field in Address Book’s Preferences/Template pull down.

screen shot of a dialog box

Steve Jobs changed my life

Dear Mrs. Jobs,

My condolences for your loss.

I walked up to your husband in 1984 at the West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco and asked him to give me a then brand new Macintosh computer to take with me to Alaska to work with students and adults with learning disabilities. We talked for a few minutes and by the time I returned home to Oregon the Macintosh was waiting for me. In short order that computer changed my life and the lives of the people in Alaska I worked with.

The Macintosh allowed me to experience my own intelligence, separate from my learning disability for the first time in my life. In turn, I helped thousands of other people all over the world experience the same thing.

I met Steve only once more many years later in an Apple Education Advisory Board meeting I was part of but the size and format of the meeting never allowed me to pull him aside and thank him for what he’d done for me.

Steve’s vision has changed millions of lives all over the world. I’m one of those people.

Thank you for what your husband did for me.


Apple October 4, 2011 Special Event

Apple has posted the video of yesterday’s October 4, 2011 Special Event.

I really like Tim Cook’s style, I think he did extremely well in this new role. No doubt the pressure was on. I loved his pauses to underscore some of this points. He’s not Steve Jobs and that’s just fine.

Here’s the iPhone 4S video and while we’re at it, the iCloud video and the iOS 5 video.

Lion on a stick

Lion on a stick

For those of you who are Mac users, this is a self-made Mac OS 10.7 Lion install on a USB flash drive. I could have gotten a 4 gig drive but the 8 gig was cheaper.

Why do this? Because Apple is phasing out optical drives and this will boot any modern Mac and do a complete Lion install from scratch or as a recovery. I back up daily with SuperDuper so I made this to install Lion on my wife’s computer and as a backup for us. We do have optical drives but at some point in the future we won’t.

I have lots of these little flash drives but this one impressed me with its bright color and rubberized coating.

Making one of these is simple and if you’re a Lion user or future Lion user you should have one.

Earlier discussion here: Installing Lion on multiple Macs.

Why do we put up with poor design?

I’m becoming extremely intolerant of poor design and it amazes me that so many people tolerate it.

Sometimes the end justifies the means: putting up with poor design might be justified because the product does something well in the end and its worth putting up with an unpleasant user experience to get there. My fuse for this sort of stuff is getting shorter it seems and I’m guessing that a piece of this is that I collect and use things that are very well designed and a joy to use so when things are poorly designed that unpleasant experience stands out.

One of the important issues at play here is that many people don’t know where their own lack of knowledge (they think “stupidity”) ends and poor design begins so they are reluctant to call it out for fear it’s just them being less than smart. This is no doubt one of the main reasons people put up with poor design: they think it’s them, not the product. Another reason is: if everyone else loves product x and I find it less than wonderful, maybe the reason is me. Put these two together and it’s a recipe for the perpetuation of bad design.

The Fuji FinePix X100 camera is an example of this: Beautiful camera, takes excellent pictures but the firmware/menu system is so poorly designed and buggy that it undermines the whole experience of using the camera. I’d have attempted to buy this camera had I found the menu system well thought out. Many are acknowledging the poor menu system but tolerate it because the camera makes excellent images. I get this but my ability to do that is diminishing over time.

Our Sony HD TV is another example of it. The picture quality is so amazingly good I love the TV but god help you if you need to get into its menu system to do something like attempt to turn off the startup sound. Why can’t the menu system be as beautiful as the picture? It’s like this piece of the design was a last minute afterthought. I still haven’t figured out how to turn the annoying startup sound off after a year with the TV.

My latest experience with this and the reason for this post is my experience yesterday attempting to update the printer drivers for my relatively new Epson Stylus Pro 3880 printer. I knew I’d bump into some upgrade issues when I upgraded to Lion and almost all of my applications and utilities have handled this beautifully with no hassle at all. If you missed the above linked to post on the new printer, the end of it discusses problems I had with Epson’s installation process: their use of the now ancient Installer Vice corrupted my already installed profiles.

So, the other day I tried to print with the 3880 from Lightroom now running under Lion and nothing happened. No problem, I attempted to use the Print/Fax system preference pane to look for a new version of the driver but non was found (my HP laser printer updated itself in 10 seconds this way).

When I went to the Epson support site looking for help with this I found a confusing list of updates.

Note: the only mention of Lion is in the sidebar under News and Alerts. If you follow that link you get this:

Mac OS X 10.6 drivers are compatible with Mac OS X 10.7

Well, I already had those drivers installed so this isn’t true and I couldn’t print. But, what Epson failed to mention is that there was a new version of those drivers without a new number up at their site. Amazingly stupid. They have the new number listed on the download page (v.6.60) but under it they say the driver is compatible with: “Macintosh OS X (v10.4.11 – v10.6.x).” Why the hell didn’t they give the driver the version number 7 is beyond me and why not list OS X v.7 as the end point of the range?


I downloaded the update and of course it installed with Installer Vice. Given that it was just the driver with no profiles I chanced using Vice again and amazingly it worked.

But, my god, how and why do people put up with this? They put up with it either because the ends justify the means or because they don’t know any different: they don’t have enough experience with well designed products to know one when they see one.

I have the very same issues with another product a Dymo LabelWriter Printer. The printer is amazingly useful and I can’t live without it, but the software that runs it is crap. I put up with it because my handwriting is terrible and I don’t want to hand address envelopes but my god, each time I update this awful software it’s like pulling wisdom teeth. How and why do people put up with this?

No doubt there are personal learning and operating style preferences at play here: some people find one set of experiences easy, intuitive, no problem while another set of people might find those very same things hard, unintuitive and impossible. But, I do believe that those of us who recognize good and less than good design need to vote with our wallets and simply not buy stuff that doesn’t work well. At the very least we should give detailed feedback to the likes of Epson and Dymo so they know what they’re doing wrong.

Rant off.

Lion doesn’t “burp” my MacBook Pro

Lion no longer “burps” the optical drive when you wake your MacBook Pro up from sleep. This makes me very happy.

I’ve also noticed that the Bluetooth control panel’s control for allowing and disallowing bluetooth accessories to wake the computer from sleep is also working as it should. My MacBook Pro can now hibernate and sleep correctly while still using a Magic Mouse.

These are nice details that let me know what Apple kept track of a lot of small sleep issues in Snow Leopard and fixed them.


Just finished installing Mac OS 10.7 Lion on this machine, will do my wife’s machine tomorrow from DVD. Before installing I did yet another complete backup with SuperDuper just so I’d be able to get back to my last Snow Leopard environment if Lion stubbed its toe on install.

I highly recommend reading this and the linked to posts on making a backup DVD of the Lion installer. I’ve followed the directions in those posts and it’s all worked out well.

The install took about 15 minutes on this computer (current MacBook Pro with SSD). The entire process is so slick, so well designed and thought out it’s just amazing how far we’ve come since the early days of Font/DA mover and such.

The fan is on at the moment as Spotlight re-indexes my hard disk.

A window will appear warning about new scrolling behavior. The new behavior is part of the move to allow Mac OS to mimic a multitouch display. I found the initial setting on scrolling unintuitive so changed it in the Mouse System Preference pane.

Mouse / Point & Click / Scroll Direction Natural checkbox. Uncheck that box and scrolling will return to what you may be used to.

Three finger swipe on the trackpad takes you to the Dashboard which is very nice. There’s a ton more and I plan to explore it all in time. But, the nice thing is there’s no rush to do it because so far everything works just like before.

The fan stopped, indexing done.

I’ve been Lionized.