MacBook Options in Early 2017

I realized at some point recently that when I teach and when I present at conferences, I am using my personal laptop, putting it at risk when my university should be providing me the proper equipment to do those things. Fortunately, I have a bit of money left over from my professorship, and so I looked into what my portability options are:

One consideration would be the 11-inch MacBook Air, now discontinued (and never given the love it deserved):

Amazon has one for $700: Apple MacBook Air MD711LL/B 11.6-Inch Laptop (1.4GHz Intel Core i5 Dual-Core up to 2.7GHz, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0) (Certified Refurbished).

Apple has one for $849. MacBook Air 11.6/1.6GHZ/4GB/128GB Flash. March 2015.

Or one for $929: Refurbished 11.6-inch MacBook Air 1.6GHz Dual-core Intel Core i5. Originally released March 2015. 11.6-inch. 4GB of 1600MHz LPDDR3 onboard memory. 256GB PCIe-based flash storage. 720p FaceTime HD Camera. Intel HD Graphics 6000.

With that price, I thought I should look into something more readily affordable: the 9.7-inch iPad Pro Wi-Fi 32GB – Space Gray released in March 2016 lists for $579.

That’s not bad, but I a colleague of mine recently ordered one and I took one look at the size of the keyboard and thought: no. So that leaves the more expensive option, especially since my university won’t buy refurbished gear of the MacBook: 12.0/1.1GHz Dual-Core Intel Core m3/8GB/256GB Flash. April 2016. $1,249. (There was a refurbished version on the website for not a lot less, $1189, but it did have a 512GB SSD. Win some, lose some.)

Sticky MBP Keys

The **enter** key on my MBP occasionally acts like it’s either sticky or mushy (what a word). There’s a good walk-through of cleaning the keys on [Youtube](


Ugh. I think I was having some of [these problems]( before upgrading to Mac OS 10.8, but they are definitely happening quite a bit since upgrading. Both Mail and Spotlight seem to be the culprits: two of Apple’s very own applications. softwater on the Apple Discussion boards suggests turning Spotlight off:

sudo launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

And then, later, when there is a fix for the problem, turning Spotlight back on:

sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

I hope Apple straightens this out fairly soon. I’m tired of the regular stuttering in my Mac’s responses to inputs.

[Jon Kulp]( turned me onto [a really nice case mod of an old G4](

An Easy Rails Server on Your Mac

The good folks at 37 Signals have done it again: produced not only a nice piece of software but also open sourced it for everyone else to try, use, and modify:

Pow is a clean, self-contained server that runs as your user without root privileges. There are no Apache extensions to compile, no gems to install. A single command installs and upgrades Pow automatically. And your system files are left pristine and untouched.

Pow is available here. (Here’s a direct link to the GitHub repository.)

Moving Billings to DropBox

I don’t know why application developers continue to make it hard for their users to put their data where they, the user, want to put it and not some semi-arbitrary place of the developer’s choosing. In the Mac world, it’s particularly annoying when developers do not allow you to make that decision and place the data in their application’s directory within the Application Support directory.

Why is this important or urgent? I use DropBox and I have recently decided to start doing a better job of tracking my time and both the front contenders for the job, Igg Software’s iBiz and MarketCircle’s Billings, assume that they know better than I do where my data goes. Bad app, bad!

There is a workaround, however, and it involves, sigh, symbolic links. This is one standard move in unix that I have just never gotten comfortable with. Some part of me thinks that something should be where it says it is. (This is weird, no?)

  1. Make sure the app isn’t running and that you have a backup of your data! I usually duplicate the folder in Application Support and call it “Billings Copy” just to be extra safe.
  2. Move your Billings folder from /Application Support/ into your Dropbox folder.
  3. Open and type: cd ~/Library/Application\ Support/ (If you aren’t familiar with Terminal commands, this will navigate you to the Application Support folder.)
  4. At the next Terminal prompt, type: ln -s ~/Dropbox/Billings/ ./Billings

DevonThink Academy

I have recently started using DevonThink again for keeping track of diverse research notes and documents. The good folks at Devon Technologies have a great collection of on-line tutorials — simple, small amounts of prose with an illustration, affairs — that are perfectly parsed for learning a little bit here and there to improve your understanding of the application and how you might use it. Great support like this only makes me like — in an emotional sense of the word — the product more, which makes me want to use it more.

“iDisk Not in Sync”

I was on the verge of writing a rather glowing account of the joys of going “All in with iDisk” when I have encountered a persistent error message: *iDisk not in sync*. Here is the text of that message from the Console:

3/30/10 10:12
/Info.woa/wa/XMLRPC/accountInfo (FAILED), httpStatusCode:-1,
errorType:106 (domain=AYErrorDomain, code=2),
transactionState:5, txnId:694B8C79-C874-4ED3-A7E1-F5690D9DE75F,

Some More Initial Thoughts on the iPad

First, the LED screen will not be there for long. Color e-ink with decent (enough) frame rates for watching video is on its way — or at least so I am told. Apple knows that this thing isn’t perfect, but I suspect they also saw that the technology in this category was lagging behind market interest and demand. iPad 1.0 is a placeholder in some ways.

Second, if I was 20 years younger, I would stop what I am doing now and immediately immerse myself in everything it took to develop native apps for this and the other devices that are going to copy it. This is the computing device that most people have wanted for a very long time. For better or worse, most folks are consumers, not producers. The IT revolution — Tim Berners-Lee core concept — was a blurring of that distinction. We have seen a lot of movement in that direction, and there are certainly a lot more people producing content than there was twenty years ago, but I think we are also seeing a flattening of the growth curve and a kind of stabilizing of who is going to do what for the time being. The iPad addresses that flattened curve very, very well.


It’s Officially the iPad

The Apple tablet/slate computer is out as of yesterday and it’s called the *iPad* — despite all the terrible [jokes][] using that exact same name. It’s a sweet looking bit of hardware, and the pieces of the presentation I caught reveal some terrific software, too.

I’m going to leave to others to work out all the various ups, downs, ins, outs, and assorted other debating points that emerge after any Apple product release or upgrade. One thing and one thing only strikes me as immediately worth thinking about and which yesterday’s presentation flirted with: the iPad as one’s only computing device.

This question popped into my mind because while the iPad intrigues me as an addition to my own setup, it is even more interesting to think about it for someone like my mother. Everyone talks about “typical users,” and I suspect that a fair percentage of those “types” are really parents. For me, it’s my mother. My mother does exactly all those things everyone talks about being 90 percent of “typical computer usage”: e-mail, web browsing, some digital snapshot work, and … and that’s about it.

Say … those are all things you could do with an iPad. Why exactly do you need another computer if that’s all you do? In the case of the iPad, the other computer becomes a fairly large docking station. My guess is that Apple already knows this and is working on a more full-fledged docking station where users will manage the contents of their iPad *from* their iPad and not from iTunes on the docking computer.

That makes a lot more sense. Imagined this way, [Jon Gruber’s concern][jg] about packing a keyboard with his iPad when he travels is exactly the wrong direction:

> I can totally imagine traveling to conferences (or events like this) without a MacBook, but rather with an iPad and a keyboard.

The keyboard is for home or office, the iPad’s built-in keyboard will be what you use when you are away.


Set Your Start Up “Page” in SketchUp

I found this useful bit of advice during a search for something else:

> … you can create a template that will load when you open SU that deals with the scale issue you mentioned. Open a new drawing. Draw a square in the center that’s about average size for the things you draw. Zoom into give an acceptable view. While you’re at it set display settings. I like to start in perspective view, Hidden line, profile lines turned off, shadows off, white background.

> Next delete the square so you have a blank drawing space. Save As My Template or whatever you want to call it. Save it in the Templates folder under SketchUp. Find the Preferences dialog under Window in SU. Set the Drawing Template to whatever you just named that drawing you saved. That’s all there is to that one.

My thanks to Dave Richards of Rochester, Minnesota who contributed that to a discussion on the Sawmilll Creek forums — Sawmill Creek is an online community for woodworkers.

The Yet to Be Revealed Mac Tablet/Slate

We are still more than two weeks out from the Apple event that will, if the [“leak”]( is right and all the wonks are right, reveal to the world Apple’s vision for mobile computing. Leaving aside all the “game changing” hype and other folderol and focusing on what really matters, I thought I would add my own small voice to the din:

First, it’s going to be a tablet, and it’s going to look and feel a lot like a large iPod Touch. It may or may not have a revolutionary UI, but that is relatively meaningless compared to the functionality it will offer, which is the ability to view web pages, read book pages, and watch video at something more like an adult size. This alone makes it worth its weight and cost for many, many of us.

I don’t know why so many pundits fail to grasp this. The thing doesn’t have to be revolutionary in any other way than to make it possible to do things that have otherwise been separated, or spanned, across two devices: a laptop and a smart phone. I have a MacBook and I have an iPhone. I can still a place in my world for a tablet, if for no other reason than I am a writer and researcher and the ability to carry around a device that would let me read the myriad of texts, books and articles, on which I depend would be a real relief. I could do this on a laptop, but it doesn’t offer me the portrait view that remains the standard for reading.

If [Jim Dalrymple is right](, and Apple offers the ability to connect a BlueTooth keyboard to the thing, then that will make this device a terrific portable computing platform. It will be, Apple’s response to the netbook revolution, without having to slug it out in the netbook price pits.

I am a fan of John Gruber in general, but I think he overcomplicates things when he asserts that there will be a [third OS]( to go with the tablet. I think he’s wrong for two reasons: (1) a third OS is unnecessary and (2) why would Apple duplicate Microsoft’s strategy of spinning off one too many versions of your OS.

A third OS is unnecessary because all the functionality this thing needs is already built into the iPhone OS. Any differences in screen size, whether for iPhone apps that can be scaled up or new iSlate apps that can’t be scaled down, can be handled by intelligence within the OS itself or by functionality within the iTunes Store to warn people that they are buying an app that runs best, or at all, on the iSlate and not on an iPhone or iPod Touch.

A third OS would also be foolish. It would require either stretching current engineering resources too thin or growing engineering. The latter prospect is not abad thing, but innovations that occur within one silo may be hard to capture across such an expanse of OSes and should, I think, be something avoided. An iDevice OS and a Mac OS are really all Apple needs. Surely the vagaries, and ghosts of Windows, Windows CE, Windows Mobile, etc. should be haunting enough, no?

I’m not a major player in this pundit business, and so my observations here will not be heard in the roar of the crowd that seems to want more than is truly desirable. (The pundit economy has payed no attention to the crash of the real economy and the greed that fueled it: their desire for attention knows no bounds.) The fact is all Apple has to do is to come up with a device that sensibly spans the gap between the iPod Touch and the MacBook and to price it somewhere in the span — my guess is closer to the MacBook (at least initially since Apple has proved itself more than happy to -soak- charge an early adopter’s tax) — and they’ll do fine. It goes without saying that they’ll need the content distribution network to support the new possibilities, but as long as Amazon plays along and offers a Kindle app that works on the iDevice, they are already part way there.

And, hey, if [John Gruber]( ever reads this, thanks for the site, for Markdown, and, yes, the design of this site was inspired/derived from yours.

Two Great Lists of Mac Software

MacWorld has two different lists recommending software for the Mac OS. Strange that there are two lists, but that’s modern editorial control for you. One list is the [2009 Editors’ Choice Awards]( and the other is Dan Frakes’ [“Gems of the Year (2009”](