Snow Leopard

Apple announced that Snow Leopard will be available on the 28th of this month. While not a massive overhaul in terms of features – Snow Leopard will deliver more speed. How refreshing, seriously, that a technology took a full revision cycle to clean things up and work on making things more efficient instead of simply adding a bunch of glitter. Kudos to Apple for being practicle

About four years ago I had a pressing amount of work to get done in late fall. Coincidentally, thats the time of year that I take a week off to go on my annual elk hunting trip with brothers, dad, cousins and uncles. We journey to the remotest of woods in north eastern Oregon and live like mountain men for a week to expend the stress and frustrations that life builds up for the average working man.

This particular year, deadlines and to-do’s were so enormous that I was forced to make the decision of whether to go or not. A gut wrenching decision, as this is something my family places high value on as we work hard to “make-time” to be together as we all go through life chasing careers, getting married and raising children. It’s a tradition that is nearly half a century old, began by my grandfather, and one that is talked about throughout the year during family gatherings. Not to mention, I look forward to camp fires, long day hikes hunting for elusive wapiti and of course a few beers and back slapping around the camp poker table in the evenings.

Faced with such a decision, I knew I had only one choice – bring a laptop. Not cool. The only technology allowed in camp are radios to listen to the static filled mountain top reception of World Series games that happen to fall during the trip. Cell phones are only pulled out when we travel 5 miles up the road to find a the scantest of reception to make calls home to let wives know we’re all still alive. My showing up with a laptop was a no-no. Not that it had ever been officially outlawed, it was just more of an unspoken rule. But I was willing to endure the wrath of my family and decided to make it work.

At the time I didn’t own a laptop and I didn’t have a ton of extra cash and no time to go through an ebay transaction, hoping I would receive the computer in time. So I made a few calls to friends, asking if they had an old iBook or Powerbook the wanted to get rid of. After one call I scored and had a little 1Ghz iBook and two batteries, one almost useless, in about two days. I loaded it with essential software, packed it in with my hunting gear and set off with a clearer concise about leaving my wife and kids for a week while still needing to do some work to bring home the bacon.

In camp we use a generator to power our lights in the mornings and evenings as well as to recharges our walkie-talkies and cell phones. As we were setting up our two enormous wall tents the first day of camp, I pulled out a couple of extension cords and began stringing them from the main power cord in the tent to my cot where I would be charging the iBook. A couple of fellas looked at me kind of strange until one of them asked “What’s that for?” I took a deep gulp and tried to reply non-challantly as I squeaked out my answer, “I brought my laptop.” Gasps and glares shot my way and after a moment of silence someone finally asked “You brought what?” As quickly as I could I scrambled to explain that it was that or no trip at all. After another awkward pause, everyone went back to setting up their cots and getting camp ready – I had made it over the hump.

I had decided I would only charge the computer in camp, no work – at least not at first. So I charged the computer every evening and then packed it into my day pack and set out for my morning hike to find a good sitting spot where I could enjoy the beauty of the surroundings, possibly get lucky enough to have a large bull elk cross my path… and do some programming. Odd mix, I know.

In the interest of conserving battery power I set about tuning the iBook to utilize minimal power. I often pack a lunch and hunt from dawn to dusk so one and a half batteries isn’t a lot of juice. What I found was that I could set my monitor brightness to zero and let the sun actually highlight my display. This worked really well as I was mostly programming so the black text against the white background was actually fairly crisp. What was funny was that instead of trying to hide the display from bright sunlight I found myself seeking it out. I would be sitting under an enormous Ponderosa Pine tree in a beautiful grassy meadow, watching the tree lines for movements every now and then and would just follow the sun around the tree, moving every hour or so to keep the display lit. This worked really well and let me work for hours on end.

I also found that I was extremely productive in this environment. No phone calls, emails, web pages or office distractions. It was probably the most productive programming I have ever done. In a few days I developed a full blown purchase order and inventory tracking solution that we still use today. In fact, speaking of today, I forgot my MacBook Pro’s charger at home this morning. My wife will be bringing it into town around noon. Until then, I have the blinds in the office all the way up and my display’s brightness set to zero - works great!

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Apple iWork: Numbers

index_icon_numbers20070807.pngA while back I told you I was overhauling my application lineup. In the spreadsheet department Excel was getting tired. I had long had my eye’s on Apple’s iWork “productivity suite” but had not taken the plunge. For a long time this was because iWork had no spreadsheet application. When Apple finally released Numbers it wasn’t a matter of if I would switch from Excel but when. A few weeks back I finally took the plunge.

I am not a heavy spreadsheet user in the sense that I don’t live and breath by them. With large data sets and complex multi user needs I go with MySQL or Filemaker. But Excel has always been a can-opener of sorts. Often I’ll need to open a CSV or Tab delimited file to have a peak, maybe clean it up before inserting into a database.

Numbers In The Real World : Excel Handling

Numbers seems to work fairly seamlessly with all of my old XLS documents. I have a spreadsheet I use to record my monthly bill payments. It has a bunch of sum fields as well some more complicated cells that utilize conditional formatting based on another cells calculations to set the background color of the cell.Opening this in Numbers presented zero problems. I also opened a very complex 3 worksheet doc from my banker the other day, filled ion the appropriate fields that auto-populated other fields on various worksheets in the document, exported it as an Excel document and emailed it back to him. No problem, the bank guy didn’t even know I didn’t use Excel let alone a PC.

I would expect that more complex spreadsheets may not work perfectly with numbers. I do get a small warning box every time I open an Excel doc in Numbers. It warns me of the errors it encountered opening the document. Typically these are not important, a small formatting feature that Numbers does not support or something of that nature. The bank document mentioned above had 3 or 4 warnings, but it still worked… good enough. If you make your living with Excel the transition will likely be a little more frustrating, but for casual users I think numbers is very much up to the task of handling your Excel dependencies.

Strengths

What do I like about Numbers you ask? Lets get straight to it.

  1. It’s An Apple Product. Apple gets how a Mac should work. Although they aren’t always perfect, they make sure their apps integrate with the essentials like iPhoto, Mail and the whole OS X experience.
  2. The Price Is Right. I am sooooooo tired of being robbed of hundreds and hundreds of dollars everytime I need to upgrade a single app. iWork gets you 4 apps for $79. Nothing more to say.
  3. It’s Easier to Use. Only having used Numbers for a short time I have found it much easier to create forumlas, format cells and make charts. Excel was always so nit picky. Numbers feels much more intuitive.

Weaknesses

Nothings perfect right? Numbers isn’t - I have found already a some places where it falls short.

  1. It’s Slow When Opening Large Documents. I have a few spreadsheets that get emailed from vendors everyday in both Excel and tab-delimited format. Excel opens these much faster. One of these documents is 13MB and has 15,000. On my 2.3Ghz MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM it takes 2 minutes and 26 seconds to open. Excel its like 5 or 10 seconds. Standard spreadsheets are no problem but however Numbers is parsing the documents, it’s taking a long time.
  2. Text Formatting Is Silly. I hate the Apple default text formating panel that many applications use. Numbers uses this default text format pallet. This means I have to pop open and wrestle with this beast every time I want to change font attributes. What is time consuming is having to click all of the way to the text formatting tab in the inspector only to find I cannot control fonts sizes and styles. It lets you align text and set kerning and leading but makes you open the ugly step child text panel to set font face, size and styles. Ridiculous.
  3. Exporting Options Are Lacking. Exporting a spreadsheet does give you the basic options, CSV, PDF, Excel. Thats it. For better flexibility there should be options to pick your delimiter and line endings as well as exporting to XML.

Conclusion

I like numbers. It’s main disadvantage’s I feel will be addressed as the application matures. The price is a big hit with me and I like the overall ease of use.

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MacBook & MacBook Pro Updates

Apple released updated MacBook and MacBook Pro’s today. As I and many others had postulated they do indeed come with a new trackpad that accepts gesturing like the MacBook Air. Speed bumps are moderate up to 2.6Ghz on the MBP.

I really have no reason to upgrade but the wife needs a new laptop so she’ll likely get my 2.33 Ghz Core 2 Duo 17″ MacBook Pro and I’ll take the newer “gesture-capable” MBP – as soon as they start hitting the Apple Store Special Deals page.

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RapidoResizer

I have a bad habit of downloading at least 10 freeeware apps every day - well maybe not every day. Yesterday I stumbled upon RapidoResizer from App4Mac. Having to crank up Photoshop just to crop and resize an image for a blog post is too consuming. RapidoResizer looked like the answer. A small, lightweight image app thats fast and simple.

rapidoresizer.jpg
This screenshot resized by RapidoResizer. Notice the poor aliasing.

Unfortunately, the elegant little app is missing two essential features and has one serious performance issue. One I could live without, the other two I have to have.

  1. Cropping: As most bloggers know, including a quick image in your post means grabbing it, sizing it and cropping it. RapidoResizer does not crop. This is a must have feature.
  2. Compression Settings: RapidoResizer gives no options for setting your PNG, JPEG or GIF optimization levels. I wouldn’t expect precise control, but a “High,Medium,Low” or “1,2,3,4,5″ option would be really nice.
  3. Aliasing: Notice the image above. The image of the baby is fine but RapidoResizer did not handle smoothing of thin lines well around the buttons.

It’s hard to complain about freeware, and RapidoResizer is very attractive with nice drag and drop use and a clean interface. I want to use it, hopefully it’ll make a few upgrades in the near future so I can.

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6BE1A74C-A322-4A20-AFA2-3F21F0062EAF.jpgA quick recommendation to Mac bloggers. This post was created using MarsEdit by Red Sweater Software and I like it! I have used others in the past but never felt fully compatible.

MarsEdit, which used to be owned by Ranchero Software, was recently taken over by Red Sweater and I am surprised! Initially I thought maybe the transfer was a sign of its death - however MarsEdit has grown up quite a bit since I last demoed it. It has a clean and uncluttered interface and lets you effortlessly control the major aspects of your blog post. Most importantly it gives a great preview of your post in real time as you type - something I have been dying for. Wordpress’ rich text editor is horrible on the Mac and getting a preview takes a lot of clicks - MarsEdit makes it super easy.

The image upload feature is nice but could use the ability to resize and crop images - but I shouldn’t complain a little work with iPhoto is the answer. It does allow drag and drop and thats nice. You can also include other media and integrate with Flickr.

You can grab a 30 day trial at www.red-sweater.com/marsedit/. That reminds me, I need to register my copy and cough up my 30 bucks.

Now and then, when helping other Mac users, I am surprised to see the waisted time spent navigating their Mac. In my mind the dock is for quick application launching and organizing frequently used items - not constant application switching. Even worse is when I see a Mac user dragging windows here and there just to try and find the right window to click on. Come on now people, you’re on a Mac, there are more efficient ways.

  1. Command-Tab: This keystroke combination will cycle you through the open applications on your Mac. Just hold down the command key (the one with the Apple logo and clover leaf looking logo on it) while tapping the tab key. When the application you want to use is highlighted just let go and bam, there you are.

    Extra Credit: Try out Command-Shift-Tab as well to cycle in reverse.

  2. Command-H: This keystroke combo will hide the current application. Sometimes things get cluttered and you don’t want to close a certain app but you want it out of the way. Command-H is the ticket.

    Extra Credit: Try out Command-Control-H to hide everything but the current app.

  3. Command-` (backtick): Okay so you’re in Safari and you have five windows open (shame on you for not using tabs!). Where is that one window? Don’t drag the windows around (I see this all the time), just hold down Command and tap the backtick key (just above the tab key and also has the tilda symbol on it). This will cycle through the current applications open windows, just stop on the one you want.
  4. F-10 and F-9: Apple’s expose feature is also often under utilized. Just hit your F10 key to view all open windows in the current application, then click on the one you want. Likewise, use F9 to instantly see all open windows in every open application on your computer.

I use the first three tips here constantly. Expose functions F9 and F10 are great but I use them less often because I have to look at miniturized versions of the windows which makes it difficult to see. I find being able to Command-Tab to the right application and then quickly using Comand-` to the right window is quickest.

One note of caution is that while most applications support these keystrokes some do not. Adobe Photoshop, for example doesn’t implement 2 and 3. In Macromedia Freehand (yeah I still use it) the F9 and F10 function keys have different meanings. Some other applications let you use Command-H but not Command-Option-H. However, for the most part there are few exceptions and these tips will help get you where you’re going a whole lot faster - enjoy!

Help other Mac users out and leave your navigation tips as a comment. I didn’t cover any third party utilities, but feel free to post about them with links ;-)

4ADD794A-D885-46EC-8B64-4BC49CC2E833.jpgSo with MacWorld San Francisco well behind us. Mac users are wondering what to expect from Apple in the near future. I would say you can bet that the next 10 months will see mostly incremental hardware and software updates. With OS X 10.5 Leopard, MacBook Air and iPod Touch still being relatively new and MacBook Pro’s and Mac Pro’s having plenty of features you can expect CPU bumps and software enhancements to be the main focus for 2008. In addition expect peripheral products like Apple TV to consume a fair amount of Apple’s development efforts as they work to make video as successful as music in the iTunes music store.

2008 Apple Product Outlook

  • MacBook and MacBook Pro: Expect to see the integration of the new MacBook Air style trackpads that accept gesturing. Also slight speed bumps.
  • Mac Pro: With dual CPU configurations of the new 4 Core Intel processors there’s not a lot left to want. If Intel brings faster speeds to market you’ll see them immediately in the Mac Pro lineup, but don’t expect leaps that are too enormous - just moderate. An outside chance does exist that you may see 4 processor configurations that give you 16 cores in one machine.
  • Mac mini: The mini is a bit of a wild card. Rumors flew last year that Apple was going to kill it off, but that just doesn’t make sense. The mini fills a niche. Expect miinor speed updates and thats it - it is what it is.
  • iPhone: The iPhone is still an infant. You’ll see mostly increases in storage capacity and software upgrades. Apple will be working hard to make the iPhone “work” in 2008. This means the focus will be on functionality not redesign or massive feature overhauls.
  • iPod: The iPod lineup is fairly secure. Yes you’ll see more capacity, but expect the iPods to follow the pace of the iPhone as the iPod Touch now is dependent on the iPhone for its feature set and form factor. Expect to see major revisions no sooner then next fall.
  • Apple TV: Apple TV is increasingly becoming a major effort to Apple. Apple’s desire to capture the online video market will require them to merge hardware and software as they did with iTunes and the iPod. Apple TV is a major part of that solution. Expect the biggest jumps in features and hardware in Apple hardware to happen here.
  • Software: Accross the board, software will focus on better integration with Leopard, bug fixes and minor feature enhancements.

Conclusion

2008 will be a great year to feel safe about buying a Mac. This is a good time to upgrade. It is unlikely you’ll get caught off guard with any major revisions that leave you feeling like you should’ve waited.

As for me, I am content. There is plenty of room for me to upgrade my older macs – two G5 minis, a G4 iBook, a Dual G5 PowerMac and a G4 iMac. I do need a new Mac Pro for animation and video rendering and the kids could use a nice iMac and my wife a new laptop… probably a 17″ MacBook Pro.

Disenchanted with To Do Programs

You might not know it from the title of this post but I do like to-do lists. Often referred to as “todos”, “to does” or my favorite “2do.” But, I have searched high and low over the years and have yet to find a program for OS X that works right. The problem is that they are always too intense. I’ve tried a ton over the years and recently gave up on the current “latest-thing-to-do-list-manager” and sat there realizing that TextEdit, the default text editor that comes on my computer does a better job than anything I’ve ever used. Here’s why.

  1. TextEdit does not require me to fill out 4 or 5 fields like due date and category (work, home, office etc).
  2. A simple return and tab quickly defines sub tasks that need to be done in order to complete the larger task…

    Make Bank Deposits
           - Write Checks
           - FIll out deposit slip
           - Drive to Bank

  3. TextEdit uses so little memory I can keep it open all day hidden in the background to review, add or delete items.
  4. It’s free

See I make a 2Do list every morning and every other program I have used is too much work to just scratch out my plan of attack for the day. I guess if you plan way ahead something more powerful would be needed, but I just carry over non-completed items to the next day and delete completed items, which feels really good. Plus reviewing the 2Do list daily is necessary to keep focus and on track. Other programs make you think you can just stick it in the program and forget about it because it will magically remind you or help you be so super efficient that it’ll just get done on its own.

Okay maybe I am a little cynical, let me know what you use, maybe I’ll kick the tires. For now though I fleshed out a UI in my drawing program and will post it here some day when I find a few extra minutes. Maybe a developer will pick it up and do a 2Do program for the rest of us.

YukonMac TV: Episode 1

I’m busy trying to reorganize the site to include weekly video episodes for your enjoyment. I’m almost there with the site/WordPress redo, but couldn’t let the MacWorld SF 2008 go bye without some thoughts about the newest goodies from Apple. So here’s the first episode, enjoy!

I’ll be posting video reviews and commentaries on a regular basis so please let me know what you’re interested in.

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