Tower of Babel (aka, my “cloud calendar”)

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Managing your contacts, your calendar, and your email used to be relatively easy things. Sure there were problems but you could compartmentalise them to a particular application and solve them there. Now we have the “cloud”. Yes clouds are supposed to be white fluffy creatures with not a care in the world and if you listen to the marketeers you would know by now that those fluffy clouds make things easier. Right? Well not always. I now have Google, Apple, and Facebook competing to out-cloud one another by getting all my devices the latest mail, calendar, birthdays, events, contacts, etc. Add to that that it these cloud services are all a little different on the mobile platforms than they are on the desktops but that doesn’t mean that the mobile platform shouldn’t talk it’s broken dialect to the desktop. Oh no, they talk. They talk, sometimes they agree, sometimes they disagree but rarely does each other know if there was agreement or not. It’s all leading to complexity. I mean I supposed predicting the weather or predicting climate change is still marginally harder but for fuck’s sake my calendar is giving these accepted “big problems” a run for their money.

I’ll leave it there for now and hope that my next post is about how I’ve achieved world peace (within my computing ecosystem of course). 

My computer falls over

In what is very likely not very interesting news to 99% of you … I regret to say that my newish iMac computer had a little spill yesterday and refused to get back up when told to. Since this is only highly valuable content to 1% of my audience — the 1% likely being just me — I’ll keep this short. The main message is BACK YOUR SHIT UP. I did — via time machine — but let the troubling “can’t backup messages” of the last week go for too long before investigating it further. 99% recovered is better than 0% but 1% is still annoying (and that’s after 5 hours of recovering).

Document Processing

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Just bought the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M with the idea of getting away from paper and helping to ensure I get through physical mail (which I’m notoriously bad at). It’s day 1 (really day 1/2) and I have two general statements:

  1. This is a great scanner. Small and compact yet high quality construction. It also does high quality job of scanning and at a high speed (20 pages / minute). This makes me feel very good about the purchase.
  2. The software that comes with it is VERY basic. Surprisingly so. A few more tweaks here and there and the STP dream would have been much more realized than it is currently. Overall the workflow seems a little hokey and awkward. Too bad as it really takes away from the hardware which is great!

To take point 2 a step further, I must say that the Mac seems to be the forgotten platform when it comes to document processing. A majority of the software vendors only have a PC version and those that have both have very watered down versions for their software. Annoying really. I have VM Fusion so I guess I could run this software but it really kicks my OSX Mojo and adds some annoying complexities into address book management for the business card scanning. As if my ire wasn’t evident already let me just finish by saying the business card software that comes with the scanner is complete shit. I mean it scans in business cards double sided and then has no idea that these images are double sided. Huh? Now you have to manually associate these cards? Actually no … there’s no way to do that either. Dumb asses! Wow.

Usually when things are bad there’s at least one overly priced option that you can break out your cold hard cash and fill in the gap. Not in document processing. Either do it on the PC side or expect to have some compromises built into your workflow.

Two screens = three times the fun?

A few years back I decided I wanted more screen real estate. I looked at the REALLY big screens (30” at the time) but couldn’t afford the REALLY big price tag so I bought another 24” instead. Was two screens just an economically necessitated compromise? As it turned out … no.

Two screens is great and does more than just buy you more screen real estate. It buys you a new visual setup. One screen becomes the main focus, one screen the reference focus. For instance, you write your document on your primary screen while the other has your diary/calendar, your music dashboard, etc. One use case that’s particularly relevant to me for this time of year is … do work on primary, watch football on secondary. Angel

Why Ask Now?

So why am I writing about it now? Well because I’m switching systems and my new system is the 27” iMac. The iMac has an integrated screen (or rather the computer is built into the screen) and screen is a thing of beauty: both big at 27” but more importantly pixel rich with 2560 x 1440 which provides a much nicer DPI; coming closer to print-quality on the desktop (not quite “retina display” levels but that won’t be available to the desktop market for 2-3 years). Of course the big question is, is it big enough not to need a complementary monitor for secondary tasks?

I’ve used it for several days now in a single monitor mode and it is really nice. I can definitely say you don’t need multiple monitors when you’re using this kind of display paired with the a multi-touch trackpad. that said, I am rarely satisfied to constrain myself to the “need” and have an easy way to play with the “want” as I have two unused 24” monitors just sitting there begging to be plugged in. Plugging in two additional monitors – although maybe technical feasible – would be too extreme so I have left that bad idea for others. I have, however, now plugged in one of the 24’s as my secondary monitor. It worked immediately without any configuration needed, now onto my review.

My Review

My first reaction was … oh cool. I felt a sense of relief when I could spread my electronic self out across two monitors. Admittedly the second monitor was noticeably less sharp due to the reduced pixel density but it immediately felt like an improvement. The fact that my HP 24” comes with a stand that has the ability to adjust vertically meant that the two screens could sit at the same height. This helps (and is not actually an option if you buy the expensive Apple Cinema Series monitor as your second monitor).

Everything was going along swimmingly until I used OSX Lion’s “fullscreen” mode. The app I was using – Safari – did indeed go full screen. Specifically it went full screens. What had before been a very broad but uncluttered web page canvas was now a full two pages. The first page was as it had been, the second page was just a blanked out (admittedly with a nice material fabric versus just black). That’s not very friendly. Maybe a few people will appreciate the peaceful serenity of the single application but most dual-screeners will miss out on their “reference page”. Bummer.

I don’t think this fullscreen snafu will talk me back from the two screen precipice (you really can’t go back); but it will force me to consider whether I use OSX’s fullscreen mode. I had liked it in one-screen land – although I won’t say it was perfect – but I was in no way addicted to it. Here’s hoping that the user experience folks at Apple come up with an elegant solution for the small but growing number of multi-screen users out there.

My Big Mac

27-inch iMac

No not the Big Mac from McDonalds. Although this one seems to have “special sauce” too. I’m instead referring to my new iMac from Apple. This one’s pretty hot on the spec sheet and not hard to look at either. Specs:

  • 27” iMac
  • 3.4 GHz Quad-Core i7
  • 16gb RAM
  • 256GB Solid State Drive
  • 6TB External Pegasus RAID array
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970M 2GB
  • Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad

The journey is now complete. I have an iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air, and now iMac. This “fan boy” harmony allows me to invest more freely in the mac-only software like Omnigraffle (amazing) and OmniFocus (looks great, just getting started). The one thing that holds my whole positive mood together, however, is VMWare’s Fusion which allows me to seemlessly run Windows programs within my OSX universe. Best of both worlds. I’m not a Windows hater at all and you must admit that there is LOTS of software that either only exists in Windows or is much better there. Let’s face it, this blog post was brought to you by Windows LiveWriter which is not only the best blog editor out there but it’s also free!

I think I’m going to miss Windows

Prequel

I bought a monster Windows machine a few years back. It still is a powerhouse today (i7 processor, quad processor, 12gb RAM, 2 x 24” monitors, etc.) but the problem is it’s become unreliable. I think a lot of it comes down to my fancy RAID array (LSI MegaRAID) but in reality I really don’t know and am equally willing to blame it on voodoo or some ancient medieval curse.

The Rash Decision, A Nagging Doubt?

Anyway, I made a momentous – some may say rash – decision yesterday to buy an iMac. Just fucking tired of wasting time with all the problems i was having with my PC. It’s as high end as you can go with the iMac (27” monitor, 3.4ghz i7, 16gb RAM, quad processor, etc.) so it’s going to win a few beauty contests but I can’t help but feel this nagging guilt and worry that I just spent a ton and didn’t really move forward. Probably just a case of initial buyers remorse – I hope – but we’ll see once it arrives how I feel and more importantly how I feel after a week or two.

He’s not fat, he’s my Windows system

One thing you hear a lot of today is “Windows sucks.” Admittedly this is often said by OS zealots and with religious fervour but it has been said so many times now it has spilled over and passes as conventional wisdom. Anyone who has used Windows 7 knows that this categorization of Windows is naive. Windows may have square edges in places where the Mac OS is rounded but it is technically solid and superior in many ways yet rarely given credit in the mainstream. Beyond the OS, my real concern comes from the fact that many dual-OS software solutions are MUCH better on the PC side. Microsoft Office is a classic case. The Mac version is a completely different code base and looks pretty but is MUCH less feature rich and a bit buggy too (this latter part I expect will resolve itself relatively quickly with the service release). Other software that worries me include:

  • Adobe Acrobat Pro (the version 9 on the PC side is twice as good as the version 10 on the Mac … men against boys)
  • LiveWriter is Microsoft’s free blog writing software (which I’m using here) and it is only available on the PC. There is nothing that approaches Livewriter on the Mac.
  • Mindjet Mindmanager is one “version” ahead on the Windows side but even on like-for-like versions, the Windows side is far more complete and better designed

Now I must admit just like I’m hooked on some of the PC software advantages I am VERY much looking forward to having access to OmniGraffle on the big screen (right now I’m just using on my Macbook Air). I also really like the Reeder RSS reader. And I guess the final bit, the part that got me over the hump in the purchasing decision, is that I can run Windows inside the Mac OS. I think there’s always a temptation to avoid this but I have enough memory and processing power to not worry myself too much about it so hopefully – fingers crossed – I’m a happy camper in a few weeks time.