Mac Apps I Can’t Live Without Revisited

17 April 2011 Leave a comment

In the months since I posted about the apps that keep me tethered to the Mac platform, I have discovered some alternatives. Here’s a quick rundown of what I have tried and liked.

  • In place of Exposé, use Compiz – Compiz is incredible. There’s eyecandy, of course, but there’s also keyboard shortcuts and mouse gestures that do everything Exposé and Spaces can do and then some. Verdict? Upgrade.
  • In place of Quicksilver, use Gnome-Do – Gnome-Do isn’t quite as powerful as Quicksilver, but as an application launcher it’s on par with Launchy. Verdict? Slight downgrade.
  • In place of Visor, use Guake – Guake matches Visor feature for feature and even has a way of adding a shortcut to take the terminal window fullscreen. A bit superfluous in the presence of the Ctrl+Alt+F1-6 short cuts, but it can do that. Verdict? Slight upgrade.

I’m still missing equivalents for Better Touch Tool and Bowtie, but supposedly Maverick Meerkat has support for the Magic Trackpad. I’ll get around to testing those at some point in the near future. On the Bowtie front, Clementine and the presence of media keys on my ThinkPads make things a bit easier, so I’m not quite so actively searching for a replacement on this front.

A new thing to add to my list is AppleScript. I’ve discovered the powerful combination of Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes and FastScripts. I realize though that most of this could be replicated with Python and Quod Libet, but this is just so much easier.

Will I be abandoning the Mac? Eventually. I don’t know that I like the way the wind is blowing with potential changes in Lion, but I do know that when the time comes, I could make the switch to commodity hardware and Linux and not suffer any serious performance hits. I’ve always been pragmatic in my choice of tools for working, but it’s a good feeling when you can afford to be high-minded sometimes.

Categories: Linux, Mac, Tech, Windows

“The Henry Rollins Effect” – What Happens When You Think Your Hero Sold Out

10 April 2011 Leave a comment

The recent Verizon commercials have had a disturbingly familiar quality to them. For me, it was the voice of Henry Rollins. It’s no secret that I have been a huge fan of Henry Rollins since I was an impressionable teenager. It’s also no secret that I have something of a deep-seated dislike for Verizon after a long string of negative customer service experiences. My first thoughts were along the lines of “Rollins sold out!” Then I took a step back and thought about it more seriously. He was doing a voice-over. He wasn’t appearing on camera as himself shilling Doritos like some kind of hack comic or something. I have forgiven Mr. Rollins for this imaginary transgression against me, but it has me thinking about what it means to sell out and how that affects artistic credibility.

Let’s start with some comedians. George Carlin famously hung a lantern on his role as a spokesman for 10-10-220 in his bit “Advertising Lullaby.” I think he managed to keep his crediblity as an artist and as a commentator by acknowledging the fact that in the real world shit is complicated and it can lead to cognitive dissonance.

Jay Leno was called out on the commercial above by Bill Hicks in his bit “Artistic Roll Call.” Leno took a lot of shit from the comedic community in the early ’90s. Rightfully or not depends on your perspective. Taking Hicks’ hard line perspective, Leno was worshipping Mammon. He didn’t need the money since he had the cushy Tonight Show gig when he did those Doritos commercials, but he did them anyway. I think this hurts Leno’s credibility as an artist, but can we articulate why this is the case?

In the case of comedy and music, I think it’s a bit more clear cut. In any profession where you have a platform to make incisive statements about the world, and especially when your public persona is built on those kinds of incisive statements, it can cause the public to question what you’ve said. If you’ll endorse a product for money, you’re being clear about how loose you’ll play with your words. How trustworthy can you be with all that you’ve said before, if you’ll hock Doritos at the drop of a hat? And I think this is a unique quandary for musicians and comedians. Do athletes, models, or actors take this credibility hit when they do commercials? I don’t think so. As I said, when your public persona is based on taking shots at the establishment or claiming that what you do is pure and an art, you’ll take a hit in your credibility when you admit that you’re just like everyone else.

And that’s what hurts when you hear “Black Dog,” “Revolution,” or “Are You Experienced?” in a commercial. That’s what hurts when you see Willie Nelson in a Taco Bell commercial or hear Henry Rollins talking about “America’s fastest 3G network.” It’s that you realize that someone you admired or idolized is just like you.

But at the same time, they’re just like you.

Gurus, Wizards, and Computers – A Brief Semantic Battle

6 April 2011 Leave a comment

I hate being referred to as a “guru.”

This is something I hear in work on a regular basis. “This is Rory. He’s our computer guru.” “Hey, you’re a Mac guru, aren’t you?” This irks me to no end because of my firm stance that “words mean things™.” A guru is a Hindu holy man, or more generically a holy man in any of the languages in the Indo-Aryan language family. Granted, it’s literally someone who imparts knowledge or is a teacher, but that doesn’t change the fact this usage belies some subliminal thought patterns that aren’t terribly helpful.

It hinges on implied Orientalism. The East is an exotic, inscrutable place. Computers are an exotic, inscrutable thing to a lot of people. See where I’m going with this? People are unwittingly setting themselves up for perpetual failure on this one. If you think that you need someone to help you understand computer, then you will. If you think that you’ll never understand computers, then you won’t.

On the other hand, wizard bothers me slightly less. Wizard, or its little brother “wiz/whiz,” has a different connotation. In our culture it implies someone who has devoted himself (or herself) to arcane things, hiding in isolation, acting with borderline fanatical dedication. This is definitely an accurate description of a lot of people I know. While it still has a certain sense of apartness, it feels different to me since it’s not an appropriation from a different culture.

I think I spend too much time in metacognition.

The End of An Experiment

29 November 2010 1 comment

This weekend, my infatuation with netbooks as production computers ended. As noted here, I have been using a Hackintosh’d Lenovo S10e as my primary home machine since late August. I liked it very much. I still think it’s an awesome little machine that’s great for its size, but that’s the problem.

It was too small. The keyboard was too small. The trackpad was way too small. Most importantly, the 1024×576 screen was unacceptably small. It’s bordering on impossible to be productive with a screen that size. I have been reminded that vertical pixels are the most important ones. I am now writing this on my T42 with its luxuriously expansive 15″ 1400×1050 screen and it’s like night and day.

The best part, though, is the keyboard.

Categories: Mac, Tech, Windows

Mac Apps I Can’t Live Without

3 October 2010 Leave a comment

One of my co-workers and I were having a discussion this morning. He and I represent the only two people on our side of the house (end-user support) that are fluent in all three of the major OSes. We were talking about our personal love/hate relationships with Mac platform. It mostly came down to handful of things that are actually quite useful in addition to being cool toys. Here’s a quick rundown of the things that came up in no particular order.

  • Exposé – This is quite honestly the feature that hooked me with Panther (10.3). What it does is show you all the windows open or all the windows for a specific application all at once in a smaller format so that you can still make out what’s going on in the window. For me, it makes the App Switcher (via Cmd + Tab, equivalent to Ctrl + Tab) feel clunky and not terribly useful. Especially when you’ve got multiple Firefox windows open with specific tab groups, multiple terminal windows, and multiple VMs running and especially when combined with…
  • Better Touch Tool/Multi-Touch in general – A four finger downward swipe to engage Exposé makes it even better. The Magic Trackpad has made my desktop computing life that much better. Better Touch Tool made the Magic Trackpad even better than that. I had tried to set the squeeze on my Mighty Mouse as Exposé in a previous life, but that never worked like I wanted it to work, mostly because the squeeze button those mice is needlessly twitchy. When placed between the halves of my Kinesis Freestyle, the Trackpad is the perfect compliment to my Trackman Wheel.
  • Growl – Growl is a handy little notifier app that alerts you to incoming IMs, changed tracks in iTunes and a plethora of other things that you can configure. Very handy when you’re playing your whole iTunes library on shuffle.
  • Bowtie – This is an app that gives you a few global shortcuts to control iTunes and a built-in scribbler for Last.FM. Way better than the official Last.FM client, which, let’s face it, sucks.
  • Quicksilver – While Windows may have Launchy, it just pales in comparison, but that might just be a matter of slightly less maturity. Sure, Quicksilver is an app-launcher, but it’s capable of so much more. Before Bowtie, I used it to control iTunes. I still have it set up to trigger a few global shortcuts that I find fairly useful.
  • Visor – Ctrl + ` to get Terminal window that slides down like the console in Quake, but not quite. Can you tell that I like global shortcuts?

For all my talk of loving Linux and what it represents, I can’t get away from the Mac OS. When it comes time to get some work done, I just need to have OS X running on my machine. Does that make me a hypocrite? I don’t know. I do know that it makes me a creature of habit, and as they say “old habits die hard.”

How about you? What apps can’t you live without? What do you need to feel productive?

Categories: Linux, Mac, Tech, Windows

Privacy Under Threat

29 September 2010 Leave a comment

This makes me want to vomit with rage. There’s not much for me to add since this is a surprisingly well-balanced piece.

I do want to say that strong encryption is important to maintaining privacy in the digital age and that any attempts to undermine strong encryption are blows to personal privacy. I can’t help but feel that the sorts of people that are so opposed to Roe v. Wade are opposed to it not only because it’s about personal control over a woman’s body, but also because the opinions states that there is a right to privacy and affirms Griswold v. Connecticut in this regard.

Authoritarians are as authoritarians do. I advise everyone to follow this story and alert your congress-critter to your opposition when it shows up in the new year. Rest assured I will be following this story.

Happy Labor Day

6 September 2010 Leave a comment

Today is Labor Day. A day to celebrate the hard work and brow sweat that goes into making our country what it is. It would appear that there are people out there that don’t get this.

This holiday originated as a conciliatory act on the part of the US Federal government. The Pullman Strike was put down by 12,000 Federal troops acting on the orders of President Grover Cleveland resulting in the death of 13 and the injury of 57. Cleveland made reconciliation with organized labor a priority in the aftermath of the event, especially after the constitutionality of the act was called into question.

Organized labor is a topic near and dear to my heart. My grandfather spent the better part of his adult life working on behalf of the working man as an organizer for UFCW. He even met my grandmother on a picket line. For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard about the good that unions do. While I realize that unions have something of a bad rep, especially in light of demands from UAW and the fallout from that in Detroit, but their time has not passed by a long shot.

If you enjoy 8 hour workdays/40 hour work weeks, in a safe environment, with health benefits and paid time off, you can almost certainly thank a labor union for that. If you don’t have that, you might be in an industry ripe for organization.

What most people don’t realize is that minimum wage, even after its recent hike, is not a living wage. Now, more than ever, workers need an advocate. Events in my own backyard remind me of this fact on an almost daily basis.

Happy Labor Day, everyone!