The Perfect MacBook

My MacBook Pro is 3 1/2 years old. It’s the best computer I’ve ever owned. As far as I’m concerned, it’s perfect. So this week I purchased another one, almost exactly like it. (I won’t bore you with the specs) I bought it as a spare but my current machine will become the spare.

I’ve always thought the latest version of the MacBook was better than the one before. Until now. The newest model has a keyboard that just doesn’t feel as good as mine. The Touchpad is bigger than I want or need. And Apple saw fit to do away with the MagSafe connector on the power cord, which kept my box on the table instead of the floor countless times.

M.G. Siegler had similar thoughts a couple of years ago:

“I suspect this new MacBook will be the last laptop I end up buying. Again, that doesn’t mean the MacBook is dying anytime soon, but I believe this will be the pinnacle of the product. We’ll get spec bumps for years to come. But it will be the long, slow fade we just witnessed with the iPod.”

I don’t really fault Apple for this. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that Apple (or any company) succeeded in making The Perfect Laptop. I know, there’s no such thing but let’s say it was 99.99% perfection. And the following year — to meet shareholders expectations — they have to roll out a new model. They’ve got make some changes, right? Isn’t it much more likely those changes will make it worse than better? There’s probably a name for this phenomenon (If You Fuck With It Enough You Will Fuck It Up Syndrome?).

I think this is what happened with their latest MacBook Pro. I’m sure it’s a good laptop and lots of people will buy it and be very happy with it. Just not me.

So now I have two (nearly identical) laptops. One in the bag I take everywhere and one on the closet on hot standby.

Backup

hero_2xThis was always a challenge during my Windows days. In part because there were no now high capacity external hard drives, but mostly because it was a tedious chore. And maybe I just wasn’t smart enough of disciplined enough. Best I could manage was to copy some documents and photos to some floppies and pray I didn’t the computer HD didn’t die.

That really changed for me when I switched to Mac and started using Time Machine. When I got to the office each morning I’d plug an external hard drive in and forget about. It did incremental back-ups in the background.

While I never had a hard drive failure, I frequently needed a file that I had mistakenly deleted. I don’t recall how we addressed this in the old Windows days but seems like you had to do a full restore (a major deal) to get that one file back. With Time Machine I just flip back through the backups until I find one where the missing file existed. Just drag the file to my desktop and it’s back.

[Allow me to stipulate that smarter folks than I probably had no trouble managing backups on Windows.]

Barb has less time for this kind of routine (but critical chore) so she doesn’t do backups as often as she should but I think we’ve solved that problem.

The AirPort Time Capsule is “a superfast Wi‑Fi base station and an easy-to-use backup device all in one.” No more plugging in external hard drives. When we fire up one of our MacBooks it periodically does the incremental backup. With two terabytes of storage, the Time Capsule manages backups for both Barb and me.

Because I’m a little paranoid about backups, I also run Carbon Copy Cloner once a week. And I’m going to start keeping a copy off site.

Burning Fossils

stoveOn this cold January day I’m remembering coal burning stoves. How is that possible? Can such memories be real? It would have been the early ’50s (1953-54?). It was a little farm house where my mother’s cousin and his family lived. The house had electricity but was heated with a large cast-iron (?) stove that stood in the middle of the living room. A coal bucket stood next to the stove, which made a wicked sizzling sound when you spat on it. (Best done when grown-ups were out of the room). I don’t know why the house wasn’t heated with propane. I also have memories of wood-burning cook stoves in the homes of some of my rural relations.

These were such primitive technologies. It boggles my mind as I sit here with my MacBook and iPhone and wifi and all the rest. Will today’s tech seem so… ancient… in just 60 short years?

A place for my stapler

office

While cleaning out my office yesterday, I reflected on the spaces in which I’ve worked over the past 40 years. During my radio days I spent most of my hours in a studio (on-air or production). When I came to Learfield they didn’t have a real office but provided a tiny desk on a tiny sun porch attached to the old house.

sunporch

I don’t have a photo of my desk but it looked just like this one (in which Roger Gardner is hiding his face for some reason). I got a nicer space when Jim Lipsey and I each had a corner of a big old room in that same house.

mccarty_office

We eventually built the nice building we’re in now and I had a nice office just a couple of down from our CEO. That proximity mattered in those days (perhaps it still does). The carpet was a different color in these offices to visually make the point we were special.

I suppose we once needed offices to put things like filing cabinets and typewriters and chairs for visitors. And we needed a private space to talk about things that others weren’t authorized to hear. My little office started feeling like a small prison cell (albeit with a big window).

In an era of smart phones and MacBooks, a building filled with little square rooms lining hallways seems… quaint. Hardly the best use of space. But then, where would I keep my stapler.

Window on the world

I’ve been using the new MacBook Pro for a couple of weeks now. What I heard in my head as I wrote the previous sentence was, “I’ve been using the Retina display for a couple of weeks now.” The new MBP has lots of nice features but the amazing display overshadows them.

Before I go on, I must confess I romanticize technology. Not only what technology can/will accomplish, but the hardware and software itself. I care how the device I’m using looks and feels. Almost as much has how it functions. Steve Jobs understood this.

Where was I?

My computer has become a window on the world (universe?). I spend a lot of time looking into (out of? through?) that window. And when I first saw the Retina display, it was like looking through a window that had just been cleaned. You weren’t really conscious of it being dirty… until it wasn’t.

Let’s stop a moment to acknowledge that what I see through my small window pales in comparison to the view from the rim of the Grand Canyon or the edge of an active volcano.

That seems (to this layman) to be a matter of bandwidth. I am taking in much more data perched on the rim of Mt. Aetna as she spews hot lava. All of my senses are sucking in 11 trillian bits per second (xxxxx). But clearly any/every reality we experience is cooked up in the soup kitchen of the brain and some future hardware/software will take me places the Retina display can only hint at.

Until that day, I’m enjoying looking out a sparkling clean window.

“The user should have a choice”

That’s the opinion of Phil Atkinson, the head of IT for the company I work for. The choice to which he refers is whether to work on a Mac or a PC.

The subject came up when I noticed a stack of new MacBook Airs in the IT area. “Just wait till next week,” I was told. “We’ll have a bunch more.”

Since the Dawn of Digital Time, the IT gods purchased and deployed no-nonsense PC clones (like the brown lace-up choose your mom made you wear when you were a kid). The deciding factors were cost and ease of maintenance for the network guys.

And then one day employees started bringing their personal computers (always a Mac) to work, rather than endure a life on Windows. I was one of those employees back in 2006. The PC was connected to the network for Outlook and all the rest, but for anything fun or creative, I turned to the Mac.

As others saw what the Mac could do, a few more started showing up. At first it was some of the IT guys who opted for Mac’s and then a couple of senior management types with the juice to get what they wanted.

And just a few years later, there’s that stack of Mac’s with more on the way. What the fuck?

Cloud computing played a part in this evolution. You could do stuff without even being connected to the company network.

The iPhone and the iPad, of course. Employees were buying smart phones and loving them. “Uh, you can keep the BlackBerry, I’m cool.”

Where many (most?) IT departments would have circled the wagons and refused to support anything but those lovely beige H-P’s, our guys understood their role to be one of support, not impediment. If employees want to purchase and use their own hardware, let’s try to find a way to make that work.

Not so very long ago, most raised-on-Windows employees would have been afraid to learn a new operating system. Apple is changing that. Everybody knows how to use a web browser. And most of us are getting pretty familiar with apps.

Microsoft Office? No question, still a big factor. But more for my generation than the new ones.

The workplace is changing. Do I need and office with a desk with a big black phone on it? Or can I get just as much done from home or the coffee shop?

I can’t wait to see what happens next. Whatever it might be, our IT guys are trying to make it easier and more fun.

Instagram

I started playing with Instagram about 6 months ago but never got around to writing about it here because I couldn’t think of how to describe it (“Fast beautiful photo sharing for your iPhone”).

From the website: “Snap a photo with your iPhone, choose a filter to transform the look and feel, send to Facebook, Twitter or Flickr – it’s all as easy as pie. It’s photo sharing, reinvented.”

I have about 3,000 photos on my MacBook and a couple of thousand on flickr. I post photos here at smays.com and a few on Twitter so, there’s no shortage of places to share photos. And it’s really no more trouble to post a photo to flickr or Twitter than Instagram.

So how to explain the popularity of this little app (4.5 million users)? I can’t.

Today I came across a website called Inkstagram that brings Instagram pics to your web browser.  So I can introduce you to the gritty images of tonydetroit; and komeda whose photos almost feature one or two people against a beautiful but lonely backdrop; and today I discovered travisjensen who sends instagrams from San Francisco.

I don’t know these people and will probably never interact with them, short of liking or briefly commenting on one of their photos. But I like to think the images they share tell me something about them. Something, perhaps, they don’t know about themselves.

Ah. Just came across this interview with the founder of Instagram.

Fortress of Solitude

I spent some time cleaning up (and rearranging) my home office this weekend. One of our upstairs bedroom was turned into a “man cave” some years ago and I’m spending more and more time there (here).

With just the MacBook and wireless printer to move, it really didn’t take long. In the bad old PC days I had to label wires and cords to have any chance of getting everything hooked back up and working. I have a growing collection of power-strips that are no longer needed.

The room has a nice southern view looking out into the woods behind our house.

In the immortal words of Brian Wilson:

Now it’s dark and I’m alone
but I won’t be afraid
In my room

paper.li

I LOVE Twitter. It’s where I follow the insights and links of 131 like-minded souls. I tweet with some regularity but it’s the sum of these parts that makes Twitter so valuable/interesting to me.

paper.li compiles all of those tweets into a daily “paper.” While I prefer to follow my Twitter stream on my iPhone app or Tweeti on the MacBook, paper.li offers a better answer to: “What do you see in Twitter?!”

It’s like having 131 hand-picked editors, commentators and comedians, continuously scouring and curating the web just for me.