Monday, December 28

My Macbook Pro - First Impressions

I have so NOT explored all there is to do with my Macbook, so consider this an off-the-cuff kind of review, and a review from a former non-Mac user, at that.

First, why a Mac and why the Macbook Pro, specifically? I've been toying with getting a laptop for a while. My pc is, I think, 4-5 years old and very, v e r y s - l - o - w. I knew replacing it was my best option given its age. What remained was deciding what to replace it with. Well, one of the biggie issues I've had with Windows is the near constant virus scans that are a security necessity. Pair that with what seems to be an awfully frequent need for updates, and I'm not-so-virtually tearing my hair out every other week.

I had heard good things about the Mac. From what I could learn, it was much less vulnerable to viruses and hacking in general. I don't pretend to understand all the geek-ese, but I gather it has something to do with the way it is designed. Which doesn't mean it's impervious, just much less likely to get hit. That means the software does not need to be constantly on the defensive, which sounds like a good thing to me.

And I've usedother Apple products (iTunes, iPod and iPhone) and I've been very well pleased with them. There's a sleek, consumer-friendliness to their design, and they've been dependable with regular updates that don't take forever to install, and the one time I did have to contact a customer service rep, it was someone who was obviously not reading from a script, something which drives me absolutely bonkers when I encounter it.

So I was favorable to the Mac, but still wary of the price, which is a lot higher than a Windows OS laptop. The price difference seemed to make the choice a no-brainer at first, but as I played with building a virtual Windows laptop I realized that my first impression wasn't entirely accurate. By the time I had built my preferences to include memory, battery-life, and software comparable to the Mac, that price difference narrowed considerably. A Mac was still a lot pricier, but not so scary now. And I reasoned that if I was happier with it, that difference would be worth it. My only remaining quibble is the cost per screen size. 15" seemed to be pretty standard for Windows, but to keep the Macbook to anything like a comparable price I had to settle for a 13". And I'm okay with that because it's for home use, mostly Internet surfing and so forth. But I still don't see why Apple needs to charge so much more for a measly 2". And I would be very much surprised if they don't phase out the 13" in the very near future and drop the 15" inch price to something more in the 13" neighborhood. I think it would go a long way towards luring in the fence-sitters for whom screen size might be important.

I went with the Macbook Pro mainly because I wanted to be sure of having all the same device options - memory stick and so on - that I was used to using. In reading through the specifications, the Macbook Pro appeared to be the only one that had no limitations that I could tell.

Placing the order was fairly painless in the end. I opted for the free shipping rather than express,but I still had it within a week, and true to all the talk, it really was ready to go pretty much out of the box. The only setting up required was introducing it to my wifi, which was relatively painless.

What's different? Well the whole look of the thing, for starters. Getting used to not having "windows" as I've understood them was something to wrap my brain around. You can certainly have multiple programs operating at the same time, but whereas each Windows program has its own menu, the Mac OS (which is called "Leopard") has essentially one menu bar that shifts focus according to whatever program is on top, or "active" at the moment. Thus, if I am working in iTunes, the menu is all iTunes related. If I have Safari (the Internet browser) open and active, then the menu is Safari related. Other programs can be operating, but Leopard focuses on whichever is active or upper most. But they are all visible as icons on what is called the "dock" at the bottom of the screen. and it is very simple to switch from one to another simply by clicking on the icon.

And although there is a "control" key, all comparable functions are accomplished with the "command" key. Also, there is no right click. That's taking some getting used to. The track pad is all one piece, no right or left options. I think there's an option to get something similar to a right click, but I want to learn my way around before I go changing things much.

The sound quality is amazing. Listening to Pandora or iTunes is a great experience. For music, no additional speakers are necessary. I've heard that the volume suffers if you are watching video, but I haven't tried that yet. I have no idea where they are hiding the speakers, though.

It's only run one system update in the two weeks I've had it (no virus scans - yay!), and I was instructed that it is preferable to have it hooked up to a power source rather than running the update on battery. But it was a smooth and speedy process, and I was able to still work in another program at the same time with no noticeable hitch.

I love that there's no 'booting up' period. I turn it on, the screen goes blue, there's a tone, and it's ready to go. I'm talking about seconds as opposed to the minutes I am used to waiting for Windows to get up and running.

I think there will be things I miss down the road, programs or software that are Windows only that I just can't get for the Mac. But so far I'm very pleased, and so far the pros are out-weighing the cons. I'll come back in a few weeks when I've explored further and feel more comfortable.

Sunday, December 20

I Think Its Going To Be A White Christmas

I know there's still a few days to go, yet, but the forecasters don't think we'll get above freezing for the next two days, and I do believe it will take more than one warm day to get rid of it all. This pic to the right was taken late afternoon yesterday. I actually had shoveled everything out once, but there was no way to keep up with it. I paid a kid $5 to take a final pass behind my car and left the sidewalk for today. It's a light, powdery snow, so it shouldn't be to hard to move, but the stuff behind my car was pushed there by multiple passes of the plow and was in danger of becoming packed.

The street light on the crest of the new fallen snow gave a luster of mid-day to objects below. The haziness you see just outside the light's halo is actually more snow falling. This one was taken about 9 p.m. last night. Yes, night time. Without flash. All that snow glows and reflects the smallest amoung of light. As you can see, these neighbors didn't even attempt a rudimentary dig out yesterday.

And finally, my back deck this morning. I's a bright sunny day, very pretty and all the snow is sparkling like jewels; but it's only 26° so I'm guessing we won't be using the deck for a few days.

Tuesday, December 8

One Thing At A Time

If you've been paying attention, you know that I have clutter issues. Not dirt, or actual messes, but just plain clutter. As in "too much stuff." Over the last few years I've tried various methods to get a handle on the problem including the "put it down once" school of thought. But what do you do when you encounter something else that needs picking up? What about when you have something in hand and suddenly something on the stove is burning? I mean, come on, life happens. It happens frequently to me, and I have to figure it happens occasionally to other people.

A few years ago I heard about this person who calls herself "Flylady" (I don't know why; it's not a very flattering moniker) and runs a website and email service designed to get people organized. I checked out the website and she did have some good ideas. For example, breaking down tasks into small, manageable portions. Maybe you don't have time to clean a room, but you can clear off one surface - that kind of thing. She also suggested limiting yourself to 15 minutes per chore and then moving on before it turned into an all day deal. You're even supposed to set a timer. This makes sense to me. I think the sense of being overwhelmed is the main reason people don't get a lot of things done. And I'm sure there's a corollary to Murphy's law about things that get put off growing exponentially. If not, there should be because we all know it happens.

Anyway, "Flylady" had some good stuff, but some of it was a bit silly. For instance, if you subscribe to the service you would get pinged with emails throughout the day, telling you what room you were going to work on this week, and what other chores to accomplish through the day. But it seemed to me that I'd be getting pinged to, I don't know, scrub the tea kettle or some such thing, when I'd be at work and couldn't do anything about it. And, focusing on one room per week, it could be a month or more before I got around to the room that needed the most work. Remember the corollary? Also, she has an unhealthy obsession with having a clean kitchen sink. I thought it was bad enough that she instructed people to shine their sink every day .... EVERY DAY?!?! But she lost my respect completely when she suggested hiding unwashed pots and pans under the sink just to keep the sink looking good. Am I the only one who sees this as a problem waiting to happen?

I figure some of these tips will work for some of the people some of the time, but I don't see any of them being practicable for all of the people all of the time. Certainly not for me. However, there was some good stuff in there and I didn't see any reason why I couldn't make use of the parts that would work for me, like breaking chores down into small parts.

Take those black holes otherwise known as closets. Things accumulate in there. Possibly they even breed. Tackling the closet is a daunting task and, for that reason, a perfect place to try out the "small parts" system. In this case, I placed 2 trash bags, one white and one black, just inside the closet, and every time I looked in there I had to put something in one of the bags. When the white bag was full, it went to a charity. When the black bag was full, it went out with the rest of the trash. This worked fairly well for the bedroom closet because I access it at least twice daily. But other places don't get visited that often, and/or were too easy for me to ignore. Which is what gets me into trouble in the first place.

At the beginning of November I decided to try a twist on the traditional New Year's resolutions by making an old year resolution. That way, I reasoned, I'm getting rid of the old with the old, and there's the potential for starting the new year with a clean slate, which I like. I kept the rules very simple; in fact there's only one. Each day I must either put away or throw away at least one thing. One thing. I can do one thing.

We're now approaching the middle of December and I think it's going well. Keeping it simple is the essence of any successful plan, to my mind. Make anything too big or too complicate, set the bar too high, and you are setting yourself up for a fall; and once that happens, the negativity sets in and you stop bothering. Me, I only have to do one thing.

So far my "one thing" rule has encompassed getting rid of forgotten and decades old spices from the back of a cupboard, ditching stuff from under the bathroom sink, and relegating old, unused bathroom towels to rag status, either under the kitchen sink (I can do that because I don't store dirty pans there) or in a bag in the laundry room. I only have to do one thing, once a day. I often end up ditching two or three at the same time, but I'm not going to raise the bar because then it will become a time issue and get put off and not get done. But one thing, one day at a time, I can do that forever. And I'm seeing results. Slowly, but it's happening.

Wednesday, December 2

'Tis the Season

I've been busy whipping up Christmas gifts. And wouldn't you know that just when I had decided to make some of this year's gifts, and committed myself to it by purchasing the yarn, my favorite magazine, Interweave Crochet, has at least three projects I'm drooling over for myself. Well, if nothing else it was incentive to get the other things done. A reward, of sorts. Because I'm worth it. Here are three of the things I've made so far.

First up is the sweater for my niece. I need to finish blocking and make some small adjustments for fit, but it's basically done. When worn, the buttons are supposed to be at the bust, with the skirt section falling from that in a cut-away style. It's made with Cascade Yarns 220 Wool.

This next piece is a special request from my older nephew. He had this old earflap-style hat, bought years ago, and wanted something to replace it.

No, that isn't my nephew. He's much taller. And blonde.

And one more hat for my other nephew, also a special request, both the length and the colors. Yes, he does march to his own drummer. I like that about him. When his brother requested the earflap hat, he said he wanted a stocking cap, one of those long ones, "in orange. With a little purple."

That's not my nephew, either.

Both of the hats are done in Cascade wool, too. I deliberately went with the wool because it's naturally water resistant, handy for damp winter days.

And what am I planning to make for myself? My first project is going to be this tunic, from the above mentioned magazine. I've got some really nice Merino/silk blend yarn, Cascade brand again, that I think will feel really cozy. And if I get cracking on this, there's a slim chance I might finish it before warm weather hits.

Tuesday, December 1

Lest I get company again

But also because I feel a rant coming on. I'm going to try not to actually, like rant, but I make no promises.

What's with all this stuff lately about "traditional American values"? Have you noticed that nobody using that phrase ever actually lists those values? Those same people who throw the phrase around are usually implying that somebody else doesn't have "traditional American values," but they never actually say what those values are. It's like that odious cliche where the husband asks the wife what's wrong and she replies, "Well if you don't know, I'm certainly not going to tell you!" which makes women sound like silly twits. It's offensive. And so is throwing that *&^%* phrase around.

I tell you what "traditional American values" are: freedom of speech. I am not only allowed to disagree with you, it is an inalienable right guaranteed to me under the U.S. Constitution.

And here's another "traditional American value" guaranteed under the Constitution: Freedom of religion. Not just freedom of your beliefs, but the freedom for anyone to practice any belief system they choose.

The U.S. Constitution is much more than the basis of our laws. The Constitution defines what being an American is. Those are our values. The founding fathers put it in writing. It's been the defining document of our government for over 200 years. That's pretty damned traditional.

So it seems to me that anyone who wants to put limitations on those rights, anyone who wants to re-write the Constitution because they don't happen to like those bits, those are the people who are going against "traditional American values."

And if they don't understand that, then maybe they're the ones who aren't "real Americans."