Saturday 01 January 2005

Mac OS X Power Tools

Isn’t it irritating when someone asks you for advice only to ignore the advice you’ve gone to the trouble of offering?

Cover of Mac OS X Power Tools by Dan FrakesAt the end of the post announcing my return to the Macintosh, I asked for suggestions about the best Mac OS X book to buy. The overwhelming recommendation was for David Pogue’s Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Panther Edition, but I promptly went to Kinokuniya (where they offer a flat 20% discount on computer books instead of their normal 10% customer loyalty discount) and bought Dan Frakes’ Mac OS X Power Tools, Second Edition instead.

This was partly because Windows 2000 Pro: The Missing Manual, which I found to be close to useless, had undermined my confidence in the “Missing Manual” brand.

But the main reason was that, after spending an hour in Kinokuniya looking carefully at the Pogue book, the Frakes book, and John Ray & William C Ray’s Mac OS X Panther Unleashed, Third Edition, I decided that the Frakes book appeared to have been written for me personally—since the opening chapters answered all the questions that had occurred to me as I’d been testing Mac OS X and various applications and utilities on my friend G’s PowerMac G5. So far, I’ve read the first four chapters, which cover the following subjects:

  • Chapter 1 — permissions and user accounts.
  • Chapter 2 — system and application preferences.
  • Chapter 3 — boot, startup, and login processes.
  • Chapter 4 — installing Mac OS and Apple & third party software.

Now I feel reasonably confident that I can set up the new Macintosh correctly and install the applications I need in the appropriate locations.

The next four chapters cover working with files and the Finder, customizing the Dock, using and troubleshooting applications & utilities, and using the Classic environment. Then it’s on to network and Internet setup, file sharing, connecting to shares on other computers & servers, and printing. Finally, there are chapters on security, maintenance and administration, and UNIX plus an appendix on working with multiple volumes and partitions (this was the frosting on the cake, since I’m a compulsive disk partitioner).

The book is cleanly designed, Frakes writes in a straightforward, engaging style, and he provides lots of links to useful shareware programs. In the introduction, Frakes positions his book between Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Panther Edition and Mac OS X Panther Unleashed, Third Edition and this seems exactly right to me. If you’re looking—as I was—for something warmer than Pogue but not as hot as Ray & Ray, then Mac OS X Power Tools, Second Edition might be just right.

In addition to the Official Website for the book (with a sample chapter, extra tips, and updates/errata), there’s also an incredibly useful Superb Software page, which lists “every software title mentioned in Mac OS X Power Tools, along with URLs to get more information about each.”

There was another book in Kinokuniya that attracted my attention: David Pogue’s Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual. But I decided that, rather than buying it, I’d be better off subscribing to O’Reilly’s Safari Bookshelf for a month or two and getting access to this book and a bunch of others for a modest monthly fee. Unfortunately, it’s not included in the Safari Mac OS X books, though David Coursey’s Mac OS X for Windows Users: A Switchers’ Guide is. But both Rob Griffiths’ Mac OS X Power Hound and Rael Dornfest & James Duncan Davidson’s Mac OS X Panther Hacks are on the Safari list, so perhaps a subscription might be worth while—it will certainly be a lot less expensive than buying another three or four books.

Anyway, thank you to everyone who offered advice on which book to buy—even though I appeared to ignore your suggestions, you actually helped me to figure out the book I needed to buy. I’ll ask about software applications in a subsequent post.

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Wednesday 05 January 2005

Something I also believe

At the end of each year John Brockman, literary agent and publisher of the science-related Edge website, poses a question to a range of “scientists, futurists and other creative thinkers.” The 2005 Edge Annual Question, suggested by Nicholas Humphrey, is:

“What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?”

This morning I followed a link from Arts & Letters Daily to a New York Times story which lists excerpts from some of the responses. The first, by Roger Schank, “Psychologist & Computer Scientist; Author, Designing World-Class E-Learning,” articulated something that once I would never have accepted but now believe is absolutely true. Roger Schank’s complete response is worth quoting in full:

Irrational choices.

I do not believe that people are capable of rational thought when it comes to making decisions in their own lives. People believe they are behaving rationally and have thought things out, of course, but when major decisions are made?who to marry, where to live, what career to pursue, what college to attend, people’s minds simply cannot cope with the complexity. When they try to rationally analyze potential options, their unconscious, emotional thoughts take over and make the choice for them.

As an example of what I mean consider a friend of mine who was told to select a boat as a wedding present by his father in law. He chose a very peculiar boat which caused a real rift between him and his bride. She had expected a luxury cruiser, which is what his father in law had intended. Instead he selected a very rough boat that he could fashion as he chose. As he was an engineer his primary concern was how it would handle open ocean and he made sure the engines were special ones that could be easily gotten at and that the boat rode very low in the water. When he was finished he created a very functional but very ugly and uncomfortable boat.

Now I have ridden with him on his boat many times. Always he tells me about its wonderful features that make it a rugged and very useful boat. But, the other day, as we were about to start a trip, he started talking about how pretty he thought his boat was, how he liked the wood, the general placement of things, and the way the rooms fit together. I asked him if he was describing a boat that he had been familiar with as a child and suggested that maybe this boat was really a copy of some boat he knew as a kid. He said, after some thought, that that was exactly the case, there had been a boat like in his childhood and he had liked it a great deal.

While he was arguing with his father in law, his wife, and nearly everyone he knew about his boat, defending his decision with all the logic he could muster, destroying the very conceptions of boats they had in mind, the simple truth was his unconscious mind was ruling the decision making process. It wanted what it knew and loved, too bad for the conscious which had to figure how to explain this to everybody else.

Of course, psychoanalysts have made a living on trying to figure out why people make the decisions they do. The problem with psychoanalysis is that it purports to be able to cure people. This possibility I doubt very much. Freud was a doctor so I guess he got paid to fix things and got carried away. But his view of the unconscious basis of decision making was essentially correct. We do not know how we decide things, and in a sense we don’t really care. Decisions are made for us by our unconscious, the conscious is in charge of making up reasons for those decisions which sound rational. We can, on the other hand, think rationally about the choices that other people make. We can do this because we do not know and are not trying to satisfy unconscious needs and childhood fantasies. As for making good decisions in our lives, when we do it is mostly random. We are always operating with too little information consciously and way too much unconsciously.

Observation of my own behavior and the behavior of those around me (in both “real” and virtual worlds) suggests that what Roger Schank says is true, that people are rarely (if ever) “capable of rational thought when it comes to making decisions in their own lives.”

I suspect that Schank’s view is neither widely held nor popular, even though it explains so much about us.

Update

As I’ve been thinking about this, on and off throughout the day, one of the things that occurred to me is that Schank’s view might be “neither widely held nor popular” because it leads inevitably to what many might regard as a deterministic view of our inability to alter habitual behavior—a kind of bleak variation on the Jesuit boast: “Give me the child until the age of seven and I will give you the man.”

I realized that, by the time I was seven (or perhaps eight), I’d concluded—as a consequence of my Catholic upbringing—that hardly any assertion can be taken at face value since (not always but frequently enough) there’s either a subtext or a hidden agenda.

In both cases there’s a gap between the assertion (what someone says is happening) and the action (what I observe them to be actually doing). If there’s a hidden agenda, then X might be consciously trying to manipulate me. If there’s a subtext, then X’s actions are probably outside his or her own awareness (in Schank’s terms, the decision was made by X’s unconscious while X’s conscious concocted plausible reasons for that decision).

Also that Schank’s belief in “irrational choices” restates a conviction that—closer to home—Dave Rogers has been writing about for a long time. A couple of posts ago, in the context of my decision to return to the Macintosh, I wrote: “I’m only too aware of the extent to which my decisions are based on emotional, not rational, criteria—an awareness that has increased as I’ve followed (and absorbed) Dave Rogers’ meditations on the subject” and went on to quote an entry Dave posted in October:

Most of the “choices” we make in the course of our daily lives, are really little more than habituated responses selected for by some interior emotional state.

Other times, a decision may be outside the bounds of our ordinary experience, yet we do have a significant emotional commitment to the subject of the decision. In those cases, our choices are usually based on how we “feel” about the issue, and our reasoning is constructed to support the “feeling.” In other words, we reason backward from our feelings.

It’s always amazed me that Dave’s posts on this issue—and on authority, on suffering, on group dynamics (to name just a few other subjects he wrote about in October)—don’t attract more attention. But really, it’s not surprising at all, because Dave’s observations cut a little too close to the bone:

You want to change the world? You’ve got to change yourself. Stop listening to every would-be “authority” out there, and carve a couple hours out of every day and pay attention to yourself and what you think you believe and why you believe it. I’d be willing to bet that reading the phrase “pay attention to yourself” evoked a negative emotional response, if only fleeting. We’re conditioned not to pay attention to ourselves. That’s selfish, or worse. Besides, what good would you be to authorities if you weren’t devoting all of your finite time and attention resources to them?

It’s not fun. You won’t meet any hot chicks. You won’t get millions of hits on your weblog, from links from all the “A-Listers.” You won’t acquire the illusion of authority. But you might begin to exercise authority over yourself. And your life might open up for you in a way that it probably hasn’t for a long time, if ever.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m an authority on nothing, and I make all this shit up.

Rather, many of us—and I’m hardly immune—are frantic to acquire those millions of hits, the links from the “A-Listers,” that illusion of authority. Despite our assertions to the contrary.

This is also why I regard so much Blogarian “self-revelation” with more than a little skepticism: either the the blogger is playing hard and fast with the truth in an attempt to boost his or her authority or, as I suspect more frequently happens, the events they write about have occurred or the opinions they express have been formed outside their conscious awareness. They, like all the rest of us, “are always operating with too little information consciously and way too much unconsciously.”

What’s the answer? Some form of spiritual practice, I guess. A practice that, in Dave Rogers’ words, takes me out of myself for a couple of hours every day so that I can pay attention to myself, and what I think I believe, and why I believe it. Easier said than done. Yet how else might I begin to break the shackles that were already firmly in place when I was eight years old?

But don’t take my word for any of this. Like Dave, I’m an authority on nothing. I make all this shit up.

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Sunday 16 January 2005

Settling In

Although moving from Windows to the Macintosh is nowhere near as stressful as moving house, I now realize that it will take me much longer than I’d anticipated to settle in to my new environment.

Starting up the Mac was easy enough—it automatically found the DHCP address that my router assigned so I had Internet access immediately. Connecting to my Windows PC was just as straightforward. So far the most difficult (actually, time consuming) tasks have been configuring my primary applications:

  • Mail (account information from Eudora)
  • SpamSieve (whitelist from MailWasher)
  • Firefox (bookmarks and search engine extensions)
  • NetNewsWire (subscriptions from FeedDemon)
  • Address Book (contact information from Outlook).

A week later, I feel as though I’ve moved to a new house in another country, whilst leaving a lot of my belongings behind in the old house. I know I’ll eventually get everything shipped across but I didn’t have any idea how much stuff there would be to deal with. (One way to address this might be to use it as an opportunity to throw a bunch of stuff away.)

Another thing I didn’t understand—given the overwhelmingly negative response to Jeremy Zawodny’s announcement that he was switching back to Windows—is that I appear to have bought myself a one-way ticket. That’s OK, since I like Macland a lot. The citizens are friendly (unless you turn out to be a traitor), the language is relatively easy to learn, the landscape is pleasing to the eye, the architecture is well-engineered, the utilities and public transport are reliable… all-in-all it’s a pretty nice place to live.

In fact, I rather wish I’d done this a year ago, a few months after Panther was released. (I’m not an early adopter—I’m happy for more adventurous souls to blaze hardware and software trails on my behalf.)

I suppose it makes sense that my first priority was to get mail, RSS feeds, and a web browser working properly—since I rarely watch television, read newspapers, or listen to the radio, the Net has become my primary means of keeping abreast of what’s happening in the rest of the world.

Regarding the primary applications I’ve installed, Apple’s Mail together with SpamSieve seems—so far—to be superior to the Eudora/MailWasher combo I was using on the PC—even though I’ve already struck the Disappearing Links To Replied Email bug that Michael Bream reported to Macintouch:

I am running Mail.app v.1.3.9 (v619). When I reply to an email in my “inbox” and then file the email in a folder, it loses the link to the reply. In other words, after I reply to an email, I can’t change the location of the original or it will lose the correspondence thread. Is there a work around for this, or an upgrade that I’m not aware of?

As a general rule for myself, all email in the “inbox” needs to be replied to, and once I reply, I file it to stay organized. I thought this is how most people do it, but I lose my correspondence links…

I thought this was how most people did it too (though that might just be because it’s how I do it). My (hardly satisfactory) workaround is to file the email before I reply.

Anyway, after only a week’s training, SpamSieve is doing a demonstrably better job of identifying spam than MailWasher could manage after nearly two years of use.

Making the switch from FeedDemon to NetNewsWire was just as easy, particularly since Lisa, the Digital Medievalist, generously gave me a NetNewsWire license as a housewarming gift. (Lisa had purchased a number of licenses as a way of supporting Brent Simmons and Ranchero after NNW had been unfairly criticized by an inexperienced and unreasonable user.)

Although FeedDemon was one of my favorite Windows applications, I’m delighted with NetNewsWire (and looking forward to the release version, which will allow me to sync with Bloglines).

Getting my contact information from Outlook to Address Book looked like being the most difficult task since Address Book can import a batch of VCards but Outlook only exports them one at a time. But a little Googling turned up a product called You Perform, a set of Outlook add-ons from the people who do You Control for Mac OS X. You Perform includes a VCard Converter that allows you to convert all your contacts to VCards in a single operation.

Once I had these basic applications running, I turned my attention to the next item on my list: a text editor. But how I found the right one can be the subject of another post.

My overwhelming impression is exactly what I’d hoped for—visual elegance together with rock-solid stability (both of which are in short supply in the Windows environment).

What don’t I like, so far?

  • The standard Apple mouse and keyboard, which I immediately replaced with a Microsoft Natural Keyboard and IntelliMouse Explorer. How anyone can be productive with a one-button mouse is beyond my comprehension.
  • The Finder. I never imagined I’d miss Windows Explorer so much. Not being able to copy a file by right-clicking and dragging it to another folder, not being able to send a file to the trash by selecting it and pressing the delete key are real (albeit minor) annoyances. Macintosh Explorer didn’t feel quite right but I suspect that either Path Finder or Default Folder X (or both) might solve the problem.
  • The Firefox bug that doesn’t allow me to middle-click to open another browser tab.
  • That this (relatively high-end) Macintosh doesn’t feel as snappy as I’d expected.

While the general response to Jeremy Zawodny’s departure was “Don’t Let the Door Hit Your Arse on the Way Out,” I suspect this is what he meant when he wrote that his “Mac felt slow and awkward for daily ‘office’ use” while on Windows he feels like he’s “getting more out of the hardware.” I don’t feel my Macintosh is “slow and awkward” but I do keep wondering whether there’s a preference dialog that would allow me to turn off some of the eye candy.

Zawodny’s main criticism of the Macintosh—“the tab key being useless in most dialogs, the lack of hotkeys in most apps”—was ill-founded, he hadn’t turned on Full Keyboard Access (which allows you to use the tab key, arrow key, and other keys to select buttons, lists, and other items on the screen).

If Zawodny had read Dan Frakes’ Mac OS X Power Tools and installed Quicksilver, he might still be using a Macintosh.

In fact, applications like Quicksilver make the Macintosh so pleasurable to use and me so happy that I came back. (Liz Lawley has recently written an excellent introduction to Quicksilver, with some practical examples of how she uses the software. And Merlin Mann provides a constant stream of Quicksilver tips and tricks: check out his Quicksilver category at 43 Folders.)

Now I can think about doing some real work.

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Wednesday 19 January 2005

Diacritical

The first sentence of Seymour Hersh’s current New Yorker article, The Coming Wars, caught me by surprise:

George W. Bush’s reëlection was not his only victory last fall.

Not that I believed that Bush had enjoyed only a single victory in the autumn of 2004. Rather I was astonished to see the “e” with an umlaut in the English word “reëlection.”

Except in this case it wasn’t an umlaut but a diaeresis, whereas I had always assumed that the two were synonymous. Not so, according to the Wikipedia entry for umlaut:

In linguistics, the process of umlaut (from German um- “around”, “transformation” + Laut “sound”) is a modification of a vowel which causes it to be pronounced more to the front of the mouth to accommodate a vowel in the following syllable, especially when that syllable is an inflectional suffix. This process is found in many—especially Germanic—languages.

For example, the German noun Mann (man) with the a pronounced as in English “father” (but short), becomes Männer [m’En@r, m’En6] in the plural, with the ä pronounced like the e in “edit”, a front vowel sound that is assimilated to the vowel in the -er suffix.

The word is also used to refer to the diacritical mark composed of two small dots placed over a vowel ¨ to indicate this change in German. A similar mark is used to indicate diaeresis in other languages, but the umlaut dots are very close to the letter’s body in a well-designed font, while the diaeresis dots are a bit further above—in computer screen fonts the difference is usually not noticeable, but in printed material it is.

Whereas, regarding the diaeresis, the Wikipedia says:

In French, Greek, and Dutch, and in English borrowings from them, this is often done to indicate that the second of a pair of vowels is to be pronounced as a separate vowel rather than being treated as silent or as part of a diphthong, as in the word naïve or the names Chloë and Zoë. Welsh also uses the accent for this purpose, with the diaeresis usually indicating the stressed vowel. French also uses diaeresis over “i” [and “e”?] to indicate syllabification in, for example, Gaëlle and païen. It is called trema or deelteken in Dutch, tréma in French.

The diaeresis is also occasionally used on native English words for the above purposes (as in “coöperate”, “reënact”, and the surname “Brontë”), but this usage has become very rare since the 1940s. The New Yorker magazine is noted as one of the few sources that still spells “coöperate” with a diaeresis.

Mystery solved! In the Seymour Hersh article, the diaeresis is used not only in the word “reëlection,” but also in “preëmptive,” “coördinate,” and “coöperation.” Interestingly, “cooperating”—as in “Most have been cooperating in the war on terrorism”—appears without a diaeresis, which suggests either an editorial error or that the diaeresis is not used in a present participle. (Perhaps Language Hat can clarify this apparent inconsistency or advise whether he is aware of a different New Yorker rule that specifies the use of a diaeresis when “cooperating” appears as a gerund.)

Why am I interested in this? Because for a long time, I used the umlaut/diaeresis or the circumflex as a substitute for the macron ¯, to indicate long vowel sounds in Romanized Japanese:

A macron (from Gr. μακρός makros “large”) is a diacritic ¯ placed over a vowel originally to indicate that the vowel is long. The opposite is a breve ˘, used to indicate a short vowel. These distinctions are usually phonemic.

In modern Old English transliterations, the macron has been used in this way. In Latvian it is also used to indicate long vowels. In Hawaiian (where it is known as the kahakō) it is again used to indicate long vowels, which in turn influence the placement of accent stress in words. Early writing in Māori did not distinguish vowel length. Some have advocated that the double vowel orthography be used to distinguish vowel length. However, the Māori Language Commission (Te Taura Whiri) advocate a macron be used to designate a long vowel. The use of the macron is now wide spread in modern Māori writings, though many people use a diaeresis mark instead (e.g. Mäori instead of Māori) due to lack of support on computers.

It is also used in many dictionaries and textbooks to mark vowel length in languages that do not feature this diacritic in everyday use; for example it is used in the Hepburn transcription of Japanese to indicate a long vowel, as in kōtsū (交通) “traffic” as opposed to kotsu (骨) “bone” or “knack (fig.)”.

As it happens, I first found the Unicode character entities for the various macrons when a Google search for “macron characters” led me to this Māori macron characters in XHTML page. I was absolutely delighted since I had never been happy using the umlaut/diaeresis or circumflex and I’ve always hated the wapuro style—rendering ö as ou and ü as uu, which is how one enters long vowels into a Japanese word processor (wapuro) or an input method editor on a computer with CJK support.

But, back to the umlaut, whose most fascinating use is revealed by the first result in a Google search on “umlaut”—the Wikipedia entry for Heavy metal umlaut:

A heavy metal umlaut is an umlaut over letters in the name of a heavy metal band. Umlauts and other diacritics with a blackletter style typeface are a form of foreign branding intended to give a band’s logo a tough Germanic feel. They are also called röckdöts. The heavy metal umlaut is never referred to by the term diaeresis in this usage, nor does it affect the pronunciation of the band’s name.

The entry goes on to explain the history of the heavy metal umlaut, its use in popular literature, and other usages of diacritics in band or album naming, thus demonstrating one of the things I love most about the Wikipedia: a scholarly attention to detail applied to an arcane or trivial aspect of everyday life:

At one Mötley Crüe performance in Germany, the entire audience started chanting, “Moertley Creuh!” Queensrÿche frontman Geoff Tate stated, “The umlaut over the ‘y’ has haunted us for years. We spent eleven years trying to explain how to pronounce it.”

If anyone tells you they regard the Wikipedia as lacking authority, just point them to the Wikipedia entry for Heavy metal umlaut.

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Friday 21 January 2005

Femininity, Feminism, and Dr. Phil

Screen shot of advertisement for Dr Phil's Weight Loss program embedded in Slate article about the conflict between feminism and femininity

From Navel Gazing: Why even feminists are obsessed with fat by Laura Kipnis

(One wonders whether complaints to Slate about the Dr. Phil ad—which perfectly illustrates Brecht’s dictum that capitalism gratefully swallows any poison it is offered, transforming each dose into sustenance—caused it to be replaced by a series of Vonage ads?)

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Sunday 23 January 2005

Coïncidental

Top ten Google hits for a search on heavy metal umlautJon Udell, picking up on Tim Bray’s and David Weinberger’s posts about the Heavy metal umlaut, has created a fascinating screencast that traces how the Wikipedia Heavy metal umlaut page has evolved since it was originally published in April, 2003.

It’s a wonderfully silly topic, but my point is somewhat serious too. The 8.5-minute screencast turns the change history of this Wiki page into a movie, scrolls forward and backward along the timeline of the document, and follows the development of several motifs. Creating this animated narration of a document’s evolution was technically challenging, but I think it suggests interesting possibilities.

(Jon didn’t, inexplicably, mention my Diacritical entry, published earlier in the week, before Tim’s or David’s, in which I wrote at length about umlauts, diaereses, macrons, and the Heavy metal umlaut.)

However, as the list on Jon’s site (reproduced on the right) indicates, my post has just slipped in to the top ten hits for a Google search on heavy metal umlaut.

The 4th, 5th, and 6th results—for Det perfekta tomrummet: Tesla och heavy metal umlaut—provide the best example of c*mm*nt sp*mm*ng I’ve yet seen—though I can’t make up my mind whether this offers compelling evidence for or against the rel=”nofollow” attribute’s ultimate effectiveness.

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© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour