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ATPM 13.05
May 2007


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Why Use a Mac?

I’ve said this for 12 years: “I like to do computer work; not work on my computer. That’s why I use a Mac.” Four desktops, six iPods, three laptops later, I still feel that way.

—Grover Watson

Who’s Got Your Back?

I used to have a Quad G5 Power Mac (you know, the generation with nine fans and a liquid cooling system above the power supply…[!]). I didn’t have it a week before I hear a slight ticking inside under heavy CPU load. I brought the +50 lbs. beast into the not-so-local Apple store, and had to leave it there for a few days. On picking it up I discovered they replaced the entire processor core/radiator assembly, as it only came as a single unit. Price tag? $1,600 for parts alone. I quickly got AppleCare, and then nearly a year later sold the G5 for a Mac Pro (you know, the kind without the liquid cooling system…).

—Chris Dudar

• • •

Why does China get a bad rap? Believe me, having something manufactured in California is no guarantee of reliability. Sometimes, just the opposite.


• • •

I bought my first Mac in October 2004, an iMac G5 “Rev A” (the first of its kind). About a year and a half later, it stopped sleeping at night—would turn itself off instead. So, I configured it not to sleep and instead just black out the screen.

Fast-forward another year (it’s now almost three years old and nearing the end of the three-year warranty I paid the extra bucks for). After a neighborhood power failure, it failed to restart. It took a bit of coaxing, but I finally managed to bring it back to life. Another few months later and it happened again—another power failure—but this time, the iMac was dead.

I followed Apple’s support page instructions and determined it was the logic board (motherboard). I brought it to the local Apple store and within a week got it back good as new. They replaced the logic board, the CD/DVD burner, and the power supply. Total cost I would’ve paid was almost a thousand dollars! I could’ve bought a new computer for that much! Man, I’m glad I had that extended warranty!

One thing though, does this mean I can only count on my iMac lasting another 2.5 years? I’m a little worried.

—Jeff Chapman

• • •

This PowerBook G4 has been sent to Apple twice for repairs: first for the screen problem that plagued this model during its early production run, and second for a misbehaving AirPort antenna. Both were similar to Mr. Chamberlain’s description—after a brief and fairly painless support/voodoo session with a tech on the phone, the laptop was shipped in and returned to me in less than 48 hours, fixed. I purchased this Mac after a failure on the previous iBook would have required repairs that I thought were greater in cost than the value of the computer. This time I bought the AppleCare warranty, and I’m very glad I did. Although I cannot give Apple a perfect score for the manufacture of their products, when combined with the AppleCare warranty, they remain the best computer experiece I’ve encountered either personally, within the network of people for whom I am tech support, or at the tech businesses I am a part of.

—Michael Dingerson

• • •

Whereas the iPod can be considered “mass market,” the Mac has yet to get there. I’m curious what the RMA rate is for iPods now that Apple’s had a few years of market leadership under its belt. I think we all remember some of the problems in the “early days.” (My, how fast time flies for us tech watchers; if only our biology wasn’t inverse to Moore’s Law.)

Right now Apple is probably doing a fine balancing act between addressing demand and not overspending on production. Until Macs are shipping like how Dells used to be, we might still be in for short-term hiccups. Personally I’ve actually never had any hardware problems with any Apple product. Note that I’ve had quite a few Macs over the years. So either the reports and blogs that complain about Mac stuff being faulty are overblown, or I am either lucky, or clueless!

I was really worried about dead pixels on my recent MacBook Pro, but thankfully didn’t have any, and I have carefully checked. Even my iBook G4 batteries are OK (the same ones that were recalled), and I haven’t even had time to get them replaced.

Don’t think for a second that I am not going to rant about any Apple product I buy that gives me any hassle. But fortunately, so far, that has not been my experience.

Just to give some color on the other side of the story, I know this guy who had his iMac motherboard replaced twice by AppleCare, and he is not a happy camper. He said he thinks Apple just gives him a refurb motherboard whenever there are issues, and he said the replacement then gives him new sets of issues even when the old ones are resolved. He even said this experience is making him think twice about buying Apple again. He did not clarify if that meant he will get an HP computer next time around, although I highly doubt that will happen.

—Angus Wong

Next Actions

There is a new Web based solution, ToDoist, which I have taken quite a liking to lately. It is extremely simple, and does not have all of the fancy things that many of the other lists have, but there is something about that that I like. Providing fewer toys and “systems,” you find yourself reaching the “OK I know this now” wall earlier, and you start getting actual work done immediately. The AJAX interface is quite elegant, borrowing from the best and innovating where the best have left off. My biggest gripes are the lack of free text queries and a somewhat arcane formatting syntax. You can use regular HTML though, I’ve found. Some have complained about the date syntax, but I find it quite simple to learn and very rapid to type in.

—Amber Vaesca

• • •

I’ve been impressed with iGTD, which lets you copy and paste “actionable” e-mails into its window, lets you link to files on your desktop for actions (a simple keystroke opens the file), and has upgraded its ability to filter according to “waiting for” and “flagged as next action” and so on. It’s pretty good.

What I wish were better is something I have seen in my Newton life. Yes, I still use a Newton, and have modified my usage greatly as I’ve had to schedule and keep track of more and more pieces of my life. I can put some actions in multiple contexts and projects. This is key.

What I mean is that I have a student, working on a research project, funded by a grant. Each of these is a different kind of project. That student is being advised, the project has other students on it, and progress reports on the grant need to be written and kept track of. I need my actions to be connected to all three—am I thinking about Student X? or research project X? or grant X? Each of these is a mental context (a Project, in GTD). The physical contexts (where I do what I do) are not as overlapping, in comparison.

What I’ve done on my Newton is have my Projects (students, research project, grant, etc.) as Names in my Name file, and I have locations in the same place. I can link as many of these as I want to a given action. When I work with a student, the Newton compiles for me those actions related to the student; when I think about a research project, the Newton does the same…and there’s some overlap, but obviously other actions are included, as well. The Newton easily builds a dynamic list of future actions (as well as meeting times and an archive of all past notes and actions related to each project!) and I have very little work to do.

The Finder is actually capable of some of this, but only the archiving of notes in several locations, and only if you either tag the file or you move aliases around from folder to folder.

For future planning, iGTD does better. Like I said, you can attach files you need to work on in a given day, etc. In addition, they have introduced tags and links to the Address Book contact list. This all makes for a very powerful tool that is well integrated with the Finder and OS X. For an academic, it’s pretty good.

Good enough for me to drop the Newton? Sorry, no. I can carry the Newton with me, and it’s been my collector for years. I have all the tools well integrated into my work life. But if a tablet came out, were small enough, and I had iGTD running, I’d be set in an instant.

—Michael Wittmann

I just discovered iGTD this morning. I’ve added it and ToDoist to my list to check into for the next column.

—Ed Eubanks, Jr.

Mac OS X’s Fonts, Again

I am glad I could “try out” OS X before actually spending money on a Mac. Seeing the incredible difference in font sharpness from different OSes on the same laptop is just stunning. Windows XP and Linux with KDE renders fonts on my screen sharply without giving me blurry vision and no headaces. This with font smoothing on. With OS X I’m getting blurry vision and headaches after just 10–15 minutes. Until Apple fixes this I’m not buying a Mac, never. If I can’t read the screen, what’s the point?


Takeaway Lessons From Billy Madison

Thanks for your interesting editorial—today was the first time I had visited the ATPM site.

Your story reminds me of the day I found out that many industry pubs “sell” the articles in a manner that is linked with advertising. I thought a description of that “linkage” might be of interest to you. Here’s my story:

I worked in the printing industry for 25 years. I worked for medium-sized firms, during most of my career (approximately 100 employees), and being a curious sort in a competitive industry, I was always curious about other printers that we competed with—what kind of equipment they had, what types of jobs they printed, who their customers were, etc. So, I read the three big magazines in our industry regularly: American Printer, Graphic Arts Monthly, and Printing Impressions. Often there would be articles about printers we competed with, both in California and elsewhere, and I just figured that the reporters at these magazines looked around for stories and reported on them.

Then one day, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my company was featured in a story in one of these industry magazines. One of the managers at our company mentioned something about “it was all arranged by our Kodak rep,” (we used a lot of Kodak film, plates, chemicals, and equipment). I didn’t understand what that meant at the time, but years later I found out.

At a later date, I had changed companies, and I was working with an advertising agency, who was working on an ad campaign that appeared in a bunch of “industry publications.” They explained that all they had to do was buy ads in each publication, and then the publication would write an article featuring their product—frequently disguised as a news article about a company that used the product, instead of just a “press release” about the product.

This blew my mind, but when I went back and looked at the printing magazine articles about printers again, it made perfect sense. Buried inside of each article was in-depth detail about some type of equipment that the printer used, and details about how that equipment worked, that wouldn’t normally appear in a straight “news” article. And, of course, the company that “sponsored” the article had a big ad in the magazine.

My friend further explained that the companies who “sponsored” the “stories” not only got their product described in depth in the “articles,” in a believable format, but also, they could use this “tool” to sell more products and to gain new accounts.

Here’s how that worked. Of course there was a lot of competition in the business for these suppliers—gaining a new account for printing supplies was very lucrative, as was selling a new printing press or scanner, etc. Since most printing shop owners are essentially small businessmen (even in these medium-sized companies), it would be an easy matter to sweeten the deal, by promising the owner of the shop that he could have an article in a national printing magazine, perhaps even be featured on the cover, in exchange for purchasing a big piece of equipment, or perhaps switching from Kodak to DuPont for materials, or something similar. So the companies that supplied the printing industry benefitted in both ways—they got their products mentioned within an article in a believable way, and they also were able to promise “articles” to potential clients in their quest for new business.

Hope the above was informative.

—Bill H.

HomeDock Deluxe

I just bought the latest version (2) of the HomeDock and didn’t experience the “banding” when watching video. Both my wife and I were pretty impressed, overall, with this unit. There are, of course, some issues—such as the occasional slow response of the remote and the slow loading of album art (again occasionally). Other than that, I was surprised they didn’t include photo navigation, but since I don’t use my iPod for photos, I couldn’t care less. As long as I can watch video and listen to music with album art, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s no Apple TV, but it’s close.

—Scott Lukas

Take Control of Mac OS X Backups 2.0

Anyone who knows anything about Macs knows full well that Retrospect, in all of its incarnations, is unweildly, to understate the case. If you are an I.T. pro, or a technician, or an uber Unix Geek, then Retrospect is fine; but the best way to go, if you want complete user friendliness (and reliability), is to try SuperDuper, which in spite of the silly name, is a pleasure and a bargain as well.

I have actually had consulting gigs that were resolved by jettisoning Retrospect and demonstrating just how stress-free SuperDuper really is.

—Marc Gray

• • •

SuperDuper is a great program indeed, but if you read the book, you’ll see why it can’t be the sole recommendation. It only creates duplicates, and not additive incremental updates. In other words, if you’re backing up with SuperDuper every day, and corruption creeps into your database on Tuesday, that corruption is then backed up Tuesday night, such that when you discover the problem on Wednesday, your backup contains only corrupt data. With Retrospect, you simply restore the database as it existed on Tuesday before that night’s backup.

That said, Joe has an appendix entitled “Set Up a Backup System on Your Uncle’s Mac in Seven Simple Steps” that provides seven easy steps for creating a decent, though not perfect, backup system using SuperDuper.

Let me also address the cons mentioned:

  • There are certainly parts of the book that are technical, because to over-simplify is to do the reader a severe disservice. This is data integrity we’re talking about, and in today’s world, losing data could cause significant damage to your personal or professional life. Anyone who is buying a book because they want to learn more about backup so as to do it right needs to know the whole story.
  • The fact that the ebook is comprehensive and up-to-date doesn’t strike me as a negative in any way. :-) Yes, we have free updates, and yes, you can click Check for Updates on the cover at any point to see if there are changes that don’t warrant even a free update. For instance, click it now and you’ll see a link to some recent coverage in TidBITS that Joe wrote up while waiting for changes to be significant enough to warrant an ebook update.
  • Retrospect Desktop is still the pre-eminent backup program on the Mac. It’s the only one that offers both duplication and archiving features, backup over a network with client software, support for backing up to all types of media, and more. Yes, it’s long in the tooth, and yes, EMC has been wishy-washy about its future, but at the moment, it is still the most powerful and complete backup program around. We certainly wish there was more and better competition for it, but that’s a problem in the market, not a problem in the book.

—Adam C. Engst, Take Control Publisher

Adam, thanks for your comments and response. My concerns with the technicality, comprehensive coverage, and favoring of Retrospect are minor, and your counterpoints are correct, of course.

My only “wish” for the book in a big-picture sense (that I was trying to convey in a granular list of “cons”) is that those who need to understand parts of the backup process, but not everything, could find it a bit more accessible. How about your uncle’s Mac once a backup strategy is in place? He needs to understand how to maintain and use it, but Take Control… doesn’t really offer it—at least, not at the level where he is (and likely will remain for a while).

—Ed Eubanks, Jr.

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (2)

Laurence Vittes · May 2, 2007 - 13:06 EST #1
When is Ted Goranson coming back ???
Ted Goranson (ATPM Staff) · May 2, 2007 - 13:35 EST #2
Sorry. Soon.

I am doing an in-depth survey of Mac writing tools, and in the process have obligated myself to some rather heavy and complex writing assignments. I haven't forgotten you all. Send me ideas about writing features if you think they will help.


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