This is BrainLog, a blog by Dan Sanderson. Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained. See the front page and newer entries.

December 2003 Archives

December 30, 2003

Newbie Mac tip: Changing icons for files and applications is delightfully easy. If you see a file or application with an icon you want to use with another one, select the first, go to the File menu and select Get Info (command-i), click on the icon then go to the Edit menu and select Copy (command-c). Select the file/application whose icon you want to change, click on the icon, then go to the Edit menu and select Paste (command-v).

In fact, copying any image data to the clipboard will let you paste it as an item's icon. See an image on the web you like for an icon? In Safari, control-click (or right-click) on the image you want and select Copy Image to Clipboard. Get Info on the item, click the icon, and Paste. You can even copy image data directly to the clipboard from an image editor, and paste it into an item's icon. Don't like what you pasted? Go to the Edit menu, select Undo (command-z). To revert a file's icon to its default state at any time, Get Info, then go to the Edit menu and Cut (control-x).

It appears small icon images are never stretched, so if you paste in a small image, the icon stays small, possibly smaller than you expect in certain conditions. The optimal image size for OS X icons is 128 x 128, so use your favorite image editor to stretch to fit. Images larger than that size are shrunk proportionately so the largest dimension is 128 pixels.

Most common image formats are supported— however, GIF and PNG transparency don't appear to work, so you'll get a solid color background for those. Actual application and system icons are stored in .icns files, which contain up to four sizes of images (128x128 being the largest), and also include bitmasks to define transparency and clickable area. The Icon Composer that comes with the Developer Tools (/Developer/Applications/Utilities/Icon Composer) can quickly and easily make .icns files and generate bitmasks from images of various types. Unfortunately, .icns files cannot simply be associated with arbitrary items; they can only replace system defaults and be associated with packaged applications (Mac OS X apps that are actually directories with bundled resources). As such, I have to conclude that there is no way to support icons with transparent images associated with arbitrary items, like shell scripts (.command files, .term files) or folders. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

Xicons is dedicated to freeware icons for OS X, and has a few nice tutorials. The Gnome Linux Desktop project has some excellent art, though all of it is in PNG format and needs to be converted using an icon editor to work well with OS X.

Iconographer is a popular shareware ($15) icon editing application. Xicons has an icon design tutorial that describes how to achieve certain effects common to Aqua icons (glare, shadows). Apple Developer Connection's Icons guide includes links to Apple's Human Interface Guidelines, links to icon design tools, and other information.

And finally, Xicons has a tutorial on changing the system icons by replacing .icns and .png files.

December 29, 2003

Copyright Hurdles Confront Selling of Music on the Internet (NY Times).

— Er, sorry, not sure what I was thinking when I added this to my blog's pending file. This article is from over a year ago. Maybe someone else mentioned it recently...

AOL censors email based on URL's they contain. (Thanks Jim.)

Newbie Mac tip: There are several ways to run a script from an icon in the dock:

  • Rename the script so the filename ends with ".command" (e.g. foo.command). Opening the file will cause a Terminal window to open (with its default settings) and run the script in your default shell, followed by an immediate exit. Drag the file to the dock.
  • Or: Associate the script with the Terminal application: select the file in the Finder, get info (File menu, Get Info; or command-i), expand the "Open with" pane, click the dropdown, change "Recommended Applications" to "All Applications" then navigate to /Applications/Utilities/Terminal. Drag the file to the dock.
  • Or: Open a Terminal window, then go to the File menu and select Save As... Enter a name, then change "When opening this file" to execute a command, then enter the command(s) you want it to run. If you execute the script/application in a shell and want the shell to exit when the script/application is done, be sure to add a semi-colon and "exit" at the end of the command, e.g. "/sw/bin/emacs; exit". Click Save. This will create a file with the name you gave followed by .term. Drag this .term file to the dock.

The last option is especially nice because you can configure Terminal to run any command line, not just a script, and you can provide custom Terminal settings to be used only by the script/application. Such as...

Newbie Mac tip: To configure Terminal to close its window when the shell has exited, open a regular Terminal window, go to the application ("Terminal") menu and select Window Settings..., make sure the dropdown says "Shell," then set your preferred "When the shell exits" setting. Be careful: You'll be tempted to hit the "Use Settings as Defaults" button, or at least I was. If you do this, make sure you are editing the window settings of a plain Terminal window and not a Terminal window that was opened to run a ".command" script! If you do the latter and hit the "defaults" button, every Terminal window you open from then on will run the script and immediately exit.

The fix for "all Terminals stuck running your script" is not intuitive (it's not available in any menu option). Browse to your home directory, then find Library/Preferences/com.apple.Terminal.plist. You can edit this file with a text editor, or with /Developer/Applications/Utilities/Property List Editor (installed with the Developer Tools). Find the ExecutionString key and delete it; in a text editor, you'll be removing these two lines:

 <key>ExecutionString</key>
 <string>whatever-script-you-asked-it-to-run; exit</string>

This is the same key you'd add to or remove from a foo.term file to control the running of a script upon Terminal start-up.

Newbie Mac tip: If you want to create an icon that runs an X11 application (such as windowed Emacs, or GnuCash), use this script, which I have named /Users/dan/bin/open-x-and-command (and you might want to copy and paste this, so the browser's wrapping doesn't confuse things):

#!/bin/zsh

sleeptime=0

ps auxwww | grep --silent '/Applications/Utilities/X11.app/Contents/MacOS/X11'
if [[ $? -gt 0 ]] {
  '/Applications/Utilities/X11.app/Contents/MacOS/X11' &
  sleeptime=10
}

if [[ $# -gt 0 ]] {
  sleep $sleeptime
  exec $*;
}

Then, for each application for which you want an icon, you can either:

  • create a appname.term settings file using Terminal to run (for example):
    /Users/dan/bin/open-x-and-command /sw/bin/emacs
  • create a secondary script named appname.command that looks something like this:
    #!/bin/sh
    /Users/dan/bin/open-x-and-command /sw/bin/emacs

Drag the .term or .command file to your dock.

Unfortunately, I don't know how to automatically give the X11 application's window focus from the script, and you can't command-tab through X11 windows (because they all run as a single "X11" application). Anyone?

December 23, 2003

100 Years of Turbulence, on patents and first flight. A great write-up for the anniversary of the Wright brothers' achievement.

One of the nicer Z-code interpreters, the thing you need to play Infocom text adventure games, and games written in the Inform text adventure authoring langauge, for Mac OS X is Zoom. Also available for *nix.

One of the first things a Unix/Linux geek that's switched to a Mac should do once they're all settled in is look at Fink, the renowned Unix-to-Mac packaging project based on the Debian packaging system. By itself using the Debian-familiar dselect, or combined with the very pretty FinkCommander, you can install Unix apps from the Fink distribution quickly and easily, with very little porting fuss. Installing Emacs 21 was a one-step piece of cake. (OS X comes with a native version of Emacs 21, but it refuses to open a nice graphical version of itself with X11 started, it only runs in terminal windows. The Fink-installed version gives you all the goodness of X11 Emacs.)

This guy spells out how to use Fink and FinkCommander to build and install GnuCash, a very nice Open Source accounting package that's notoriously difficult to port to OS X from scratch due to its many dependencies. His guide is written for people who have never seen a command-line, which is great because GnuCash is great. I've been using it for personal finances for over a year now, and setting up in OS X is a big win. A description of the snags I encountered follows (again, boring for anyone not doing something similar):

  • I had some slight difficulty getting FinkCommander to configure Fink to use the unstable branch, which is required for GnuCash. Editing /sw/etc/fink.conf by hand was easy, however: just add "unstable/main unstable/crypto" to the end of the "Trees:" line. Then start up FinkCommander, and gnucash (et al.) will be in the package list.
  • As it downloaded many megabytes of packages, it stopped every once in a while to complain that Perl modules it was looking for could not be found on the usual Fink mirrors. They were all available from CPAN, but I had to tell it to go to CPAN for each one.
  • After about an hour of downloading and 30 minutes of compiling, it complained "X libraries or include files not found," and bailed. The fix for that: Install X11SDK.pkg from the /Applications/Installers/Developer Tools/Packages/ directory (which wasn't installed with the Developer Tools by default).
  • Hours of compiling later, I encountered a frustrating error building "popt":
    libtool: link: warning: complete static linking is impossible in this configuration
    gcc -Wall -g -O2 -o test1 test1.o -L/sw/lib ./.libs/libpopt.a /sw/lib/libintl.a -liconv
    ld: table of contents for archive: /sw/lib/libintl.a is out of date; rerun ranlib(1) (can't load from it)
    ld: warning prebinding disabled because dependent library: /usr/lib/system/libmathCommon.A.dylib can't be searched
    make[2]: *** [test1] Error 1
    make[1]: *** [all-recursive] Error 1
    make: *** [all] Error 2
    ### execution of make failed, exit code 2
    Failed: compiling popt-1.7-1 failed


    Thankfully, this is FAQ 5.10. I was able to sudo ranlib /sw/lib/libintl.a and try again.

It was amazing how much stuff GnuCash needed me to build. Emacs, the world's most powerful text editor, was a snap and took mere minutes to download and compile, while GnuCash wanted me to build and install Ghostscript and Tetex and so on. For my system, that's fine; these kinds of things are normally expected to be hanging around on a *nix system, and now that I have them I don't need to install them again, and might use them later. But some might consider installing Tetex just to run some basic accounting software a little excessive. Normal Mac users might prefer a nice shareware app like iCash X.

The fink-beginners mailing list is quite nice for assistance, and were nice about my having asked a FAQ without having read the docs first. Oops.

December 22, 2003

GPL is a License, Not a Contract, Which Is Why the Sky Isn't Falling. The truth about "viral" licenses.

The Kids In The Hall: The Complete First Season DVD Boxed Set is now available exclusively from the Comedy Central store. But you knew that.

Unanswered Mac question: I'm quite fond of my KeyTronic Lifetime PS/2 keyboard, which I retained from my PC days. I was pleased to hear there was such a thing as a PS/2-to-USB adapter, and it almost all works, including the "Windows" key working as the command key. The only problem, and it's a doozy, is the cursor keypad. When I use cursor keys in most apps, they mostly work, but tend to cause the system beep to sound frequently, as do the delete/end/home/etc. keys. In a Terminal window they're actually a little destructive, leaving little "5~"'s everywhere. I vaguely understand the problem, but what's the solution? Is this a common problem to users of PS/2 keyboards and these adapters, or might it be specific to this keyboard?

If that's a lost cause (and it seemed like a long shot), what are some good Mac-compatible keyboards? I tend to agree with an opinion I've heard voiced before about the Apple keyboards being a bit mooshy and flat. I've heard people rave about Microsoft USB keyboards, but I have yet to make the switch to ergo split keyboards (maybe it's about time) and I'm hoping to avoid ever having a keyboard with "media" buttons. What's your favorite USB keyboard, and why?

KeyTronic actually makes a few USB keyboards, but I don't know anything about them. Anyone?

December 19, 2003

wClock for Mac OS X is a simple donationware menu-bar clock application. Of all the replacement clocks out there (and I've only tried a few), I like this one because it's small, and the only major feature it adds is the one I want: click on the clock to display a little calendar. I'm sure I'll want a featureful alarm clock eventually, but for now, this fits the bill.

Newbie Mac tip: To disable the regular clock, simply click on it and select Open Date & Time..., make sure the Clock tab is selected, then uncheck "Show the date and time." To re-enable the regular clock, go to System Preferences and select Date & Time from the System pane.

Newbie Mac tip: In Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther), to have an application start up automatically when you log in, go to System Preferences and select Accounts, then select your account, then select the Startup Items tab. You can add new applications to the list of available startup applications by dragging them in, or by clicking the + button.

Cubase SX 2.0 is like Photoshop, but for music. It's easy to use, extremely powerful and featureful, and fully capable of professional results for audio recording, processing, MIDI sequencing applications, as well as sheet music.

Something I didn't count on is that a copy-protection dongle takes up a USB port, though I found a neat tiny, unpowered USB hub (and it even passes my Radio Shack $30 Rule*). It's also worth noting that if the dongle breaks or gets lost, you have to buy the whole thing over again, which for the SX edition means $700. (The SL edition is cheaper, with fewer features [PDF]. I went for SX for sheet music authoring, 'cuz, you know, I'm going to be doing a lot of that.)

SX 2.0 is a new major version that was released only a couple of months ago. Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther) is also a new major version that was only released a couple of months ago. The result is bug city. Thankfully, since we Mac users are all running the exact same hardware and the exact same software, we're all encountering the exact same problems, and everything I've seen so far has been mentioned in their support forums with work-arounds. For the Googlers, here's a summary of what I've encountered in my first couple of days:

  • That copy protection dongle I mentioned? The drivers that came with SX 2.0 don't work with Mac OS X 10.3. The main symptom is failing during initialization of the Maestro component (even though the "Protection" component succeeds), eventually "unexpectedly quitting" the application. The solution is to download and install new drivers (> 4.3.0.0) from the Syncrosoft website, or from the Steinberg website.
  • When opening or creating a new project, it complains about "Samplerate" not being set. Go to the Devices menu, select Devices Setup... Select VST Multitrack from the left sidebar. Click on the dropdown next to ASIO Driver; only one option is usually available, Built-in Audio, and it's selected. Select it again. It will prompt "Do you want to switch the ASIO driver?" Say Switch. You will only have to do this once for all projects, as far as I know.
  • When opening an existing project with MIDI tracks created on another computer (I'm guessing this is limited to projects created on computers with Mac OS X 10.2.8 or earlier, I don't know), it complains of Pending Connections about "MIDI System / -963666093," "Not Connected." For each MIDI track in the project, select the track and notice the "in" and "out" (in the main track panel, the one above "Track Parameters") are set to "not selected". Change these to select your MIDI device. If you set up a MIDI-based metronome, this setting will also have forgotten the device: Transport menu, Metronome Setup..., MIDI Output. This will recur every time you disconnect your MIDI interface, which will be common for laptop users like me.
  • This one isn't a bug, but worth noting for Cubase newbies like me: If you're playing a project with audio (such as the "Heaven and Hell" demo song) and you're getting pops and crackles during playback, go to the Devices menu and select Device Setup..., then select VST Multitrack from the sidebar, then click the Expert button. Set Audio Priority to Very High. My 1.2GHz PowerBook G4 needed this setting to play "Heaven and Hell" cleanly.
  • Sometimes buttons disappear (will fail to redraw). This happens to everybody, and as far as I know, there is no good work-around. Clicking on where a button should be (clicking the button) will cause it to redraw, and saving, closing and re-opening a project will redraw the interface.

Steinberg has already released updates up to Cubase SX 2.0.1.10, which includes the new Syncrosoft drivers, among other things [PDF], though the problems listed above persist. There are more user bug complaints here, though nothing I've confirmed in my so-far light use. The forums are generally useful for a lot of things, it's a very active community, and Steinberg developers and support folk are present.

It's worth pointing out that I had the opportunity to install and run this version of Cubase under OS X 10.2.8 for a week (on another machine), and it had none of these problems (except for the CPU priority thing, which isn't a bug).

* Never buy anything from Radio Shack that costs more than $30.

December 18, 2003

Newbie Mac tip: While Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther) includes the X11 X server package with nifty Mac OS X integration, it is not installed by default on a new Mac or with an "easy" install of the operating system. To install X11 from your System Restore disc without reinstalling the operating system, insert the System Restore disc, then open a Terminal window and type, all on one line:

/Applications/Utilities/Installer.app/Contents/MacOS/Installer "/Volumes/PowerBook G4 Software/System/Installation/Packages/X11User.pkg"

After installation, X11 will be in /Applications/Utilities.

The Mac geniuses in the audience can probably describe an easier way, but I'd like to point out that Mac Help (as available on Apple's Support site) only says:

You can install X11 for Mac OS X when you install Mac OS X. If you did not install X11 when you installed Mac OS X, insert the Install Mac OS X Disc 2 CD and locate the Install X11 package and double-click it.

...which is not helpful, because a) there is no "Disc 2 CD" that comes with a DVD-drive-endowed Mac (just a single DVD-ROM with everything on it), and b) everything on the System Restore DVD-ROM is invisible in the Finder, except a couple of documents and shortcuts to a full OS X re-install and another installer for "Applications & Classic Support"— the latter of which does not include X11. Being an OS X newbie, I couldn't figure out how to un-hide the contents of the DVD in the Finder, so I dropped to a shell and went exploring.

I can hardly stay mad, however, as the exploration was painless (volumes are mounted in the /Volumes directory!), and the above command-line was my first guess and worked as expected. It was a crash course in Mac OS X application packaging: cf. /Applications/Utilities/Installer in the Finder vs. Installer.app in the shell, and note that it and X11User.pkg are both directories. Apple's X11 FAQ also provided the extra hint that I was looking for something called "X11User.pkg," though it didn't say much else.

Follow-up tip: To enable viewing of hidden and system files in the Finder, you can use one of a dozen applications, including TinkerTool (freeware). This can also be accomplished with a little AppleScript, or a multi-step process that involves the Developer Tools' Property List Editor (kinda like a Windows RegEdit hack).

December 17, 2003

My new PowerBook included the Zinio reader application, a digital magazine reader with proprietary downloadable content, and an issue of MacWorld. I'm so used to reading my articles in web form, and have had such mixed feelings about e-books and the like, that I'm surprised it's a reasonably pleasant experience reading magazine content on a screen in its original magazine layout (including the ads, of course). And on my widescreen Powerbook, it's quite nice. Naturally, their selection is very limited, and, as I understand it, magazines are not big business. Maybe if I did a lot of commuting by air or train with my Powerbook, downloadable magazines would have a place in my life. But I barely have time to listen to Audible audio books (or even read something of the paper variety) as it is.

Newbie Mac tip: Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther) includes a nifty development suite and all the SDK's you'd need for OS X application development, and even porting X11 apps from Linux/Unix. In the Mac OS X installation that came with my PowerBook, the developer tools were not installed, but the installer was on the hard drive. To install, use the Finder to browse to /Applications/Installers/Developer Tools and double-click on Developer.mpkg. All the developer stuff will be installed to /Developer, with Xcode and the Interface Builder in /Developer/Applications.

December 16, 2003

Slate reviews desk dictionaries. (Thanks Jerry.) Slate agrees with our house favorite, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary ($15.57 hardcover at Amazon, including the CD-ROM; $20.97 for the leather-bound edition).

MacDevCenter.com: Flexible OmniOutliner. OmniOutliner was one of the nicest surprises to find bundled with my PowerBook, and it may end up replacing wiki as my way of organizing notes and other information. I've played with outliners before and have been charmed by the idea. It was nice to find a decent one sitting on my hard drive.

If you're using the version of OmniOutliner that came with Panther, you might want to upgrade.

Newbie Mac tip: The new PowerBooks ("AlBooks") can run with the lid closed if an external display and keyboard are connected. The PowerBook must be started with the lid open, then the lid can be closed and the computer woken up with a keypress. iBooks cannot run with the lid closed.

December 15, 2003

Free As In Gaming? James examines the meta-implications of intellectual property in MMORPG's.

Wil Wheaton wrote a book. It's interesting when O'Reilly and Associates publishes something other than a non-technical reference, because it's rare and typically means they believe the book to be of interest to their regular clientelle. $14.95 for 117 pages of autobiography seems a little steep, though...

Newbie Mac tip: This symbol: option refers to the option key, aka "alt." This symbol appears alongside menu items to indicate that the option key must be held down as part of the item's keyboard shortcut.

All the Mac users in the audience are laughing at me right now, but I'd like to point out that this symbol hasn't appeared on a Mac keyboard in years. The option key simply says "alt / option" on it. The command key has its symbol (command) on it, and the symbol for the shift key (shift) is at least a little bit intuitive. The symbol for control (^) is traditional, but not terribly intuitive. A Mac Help search for "symbols for special keys" will produce a nice list.

I would have been able to figure it out in one or two guesses if it weren't for the fact that my first encounter with the option symbol was this menu item:

Bad menu design

This means option + spacebar. That's totally not my fault.

December 10, 2003

I tried to watch the original Battlestar Galactica TV series in re-runs, but without nostalgia value there really wasn't much to like. The DVD box set has a nifty case, though, and I can't help but be a little curious about the 1978 TV movie.

The apparent negative reaction of the BG fan-base to the new SciFi channel Battlestar Galactica mini-series makes me pleased I was never a fan of the original, or I wouldn't be enjoying this new version as much as I am. The story seems especially suited to the mini-series format, with a definite beginning, a definite end, and the opportunity to throw the full weight of the story into the work. And I'm digging the panicked space battle camerawork.

Richard Hatch's own BattlestarGalactica.com appears to be a tad upset that the SciFi Channel shelved a revival project from a few years ago that involved more of the original cast (including Richard Hatch) in favor of this mini-series. Hatch has been keeping the dream alive with BG novels, and was set to produce and star in the 1999 project. I'm not sure if we should be interested in an original cast 20 years later (though it sounds like the story takes place 20 years later, similar to the mini-series), but I'd be curious to see this trailer. The site, naturally, has about as much information about The Second Coming as there is without actually having the trailer for download. Series creator Glen A. Larson was behind the SciFi mini-series, so it isn't clear what claim Hatch ought to have to a revival effort, but Hatch's self-funded proof-of-concept trailer sounds pretty heroic and worth a look. I can imagine if I were a follower, perhaps I'd be upset with SciFi as well.

December 9, 2003

A software engineer uses words as test data for his graph-drawing algorithm and accidentally invents a cute little word game. A bit easy, but fun. The site includes the Java applet to see what your favorite words look like in graph form.

I've blogged AtariArchives.org before. Digital Deli contains a bunch of articles from the age of the microcomputer.

Unix shell programmers string together a handful of useful little tools to accomplish tasks, and while there's often more than one way to do certain things, some ways are better than others. Randal Schwartz has historically battled bad but common shell programming idioms on Usenet, and the Useless Use of Cat Award page has summarized the common peeves. (Thanks Dan.)

December 8, 2003

NewsRadio, The Complete First & Second Seasons will be on DVD on February 3, 2004. Woo! (Thanks Dan.)

Hollywood to the computer industry: We don't need no stinking Napsters! Salon summarizes the threat the Broadcast Flag issue poses to your freedoms.

MyAdventureGame.com lets you build your own Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game.

December 5, 2003

Wall Street Journal columnist Hal Lancaster interviewed me over two years ago, presumably for a piece on post-tech-boom tech employment. I hadn't heard anything after that, so I assumed there was no subsequent article. Then over Thanksgiving dinner, my mom was talking about it as if I had already read it. The article is all about me.

December 4, 2003

The Spammers' Compendium. (Thanks Jason.)

Call me crazy, but I've always wanted an Open Source equivalent to MS Access, to quickly assemble searchable databases with simple form-based interfaces. I'm sure there have been others for a while, but it was great to hear about Rekall, and I look forward to playing with it.

Yamaha has new fact sheets for their Clavinova digital pianos, including some nifty FAQ's ("Knowledge Items"), such as a link to a bunch of demo MIDI files.

December 3, 2003

Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, the next installment in the Myst series, is available for purchase. The game claims to be an immersive single player experience as well as a massively multiplayer online role playing game, with continuously developed downloadable content. No Mac version yet, however. (I get the feeling I'm going to be saying that a lot...)

The 2003 Perl Advent Calendar.

It's several years old, but I enjoyed this article on Microsoft stock options. I barely understand most of it, but I wonder how the landscape has changed in three years, if at all.

December 1, 2003

As you know, I'm a big fan of Linux on the desktop. The user experience of most major Linux distributions, from installation to most common computing tasks, rivals that of the commercial operating systems with which we're all familiar. Less common tasks still require a little more patience than some commercial solutions, but users with the saavy, experience and time may even prefer the power and control Linux provides in those cases.

I talked about the race for my desktop OS before, when RedHat 8.0 came out and settled the score, around the same time Microsoft instituted an unacceptable licensing policy that kicked me over for good. The race never ends, of course, and since the switch I've been missing a few things in Linux, like being able to use my scanner, or music authoring, or a graphics package I was comfortable with. Sure, everything I want to do with my computer is possible with existing Open Source software, but I'd need the time and patience to figure out how to get it working. And these days, time is something I just don't have (as you can tell by the lack of blog activity). A working scanner might be as simple as reading a few pages of documentation and recompiling the kernel, but if I'll never get around to it (and I haven't yet), the costs are just too high.

I've been unhappy with the "dual boot" scenario, where I reboot my computer to run Windows for the graphics and music stuff, and Linux for the rest. It's rather maddening not having every app at my fingertips: in Windows, I don't have my calendar; in Linux, I don't have Photoshop. I considered other options, including running Linux on a second computer and using an X server application to run both sets of applications on one display, or running Windows on a second computer and using VNC to achieve a similar effect. I tried switching back to Windows for a while, but even ignoring the EULA and DRM issues, I wasn't getting what I wanted out of my computer.

So I've made the big decision that a lot of aging Linux fans have made in the past couple of years: I'm getting a Mac. I'm actually not entirely convinced it's the best way to address whatever complaints I have about my current computing situation, but the benefits are obvious and numerous: a commercially-supported UNIX-based operating system with vendor-supported hardware compatibility, a wealth of native commercially-supported multimedia and Internet apps, developer libraries and tools bundled with the OS, an X server bundled with the OS, and the best iPod support available. The fact that it's not Windows is significant to me, but of course it's still a commercial operating system and so is not a complete win on philosophical/political grounds (which are more a practical matter than it may seem). But it's certainly quite a bit better for now, and that sexy Mac hardware can easily run Linux if I need it to.

And yes, Macs are expensive, especially compared to today's PC's, which are damned cheap, even the laptops. But their value easily beats their price. I wholeheartedly recommend iBooks as inexpensive couch computers or for school use, and flatscreen iMacs are a bargain for how gorgeous they are. If I didn't want to carry it downstairs every other day, the new 20" iMac would have been at the top of my list. But as anyone that knows me could have guessed, I went for the 15.2" PowerBook.

I made a rookie mistake, however. I sold my previous computer, my beloved Dell Inspiron 8000 laptop, before my new computer arrived. I thought it'd be merely a week or so, but it's been over a month, and it now appears the 15.2" PowerBooks have been recalled due to a manufacturing flaw in the display, and new ones won't be shipping for another couple of weeks. I'm surrounded by secondary computers, of course, but I lack a permanent home, which is annoying. I've set up camp on the family iBook (our couch computer), which has given me an opportunity to start playing with the popular OS X apps, learning the keyboard shortcuts, and whatnot.

The OS landscape will continue to change, and I'm sure I'll be asking myself the same questions over again a few years from now. In the meantime, expect things to get a little Mac-y around here while I settle in. I've already got a list of Mac questions I hope to find (and post) the answers to...