Vampire Mac

My Macbook Pro is a vampire, and has sucked every little bit of love I had for Apple out of me. All that remains is a sense of disappointment and loss.

I’ve loved Apple since my father brought home our first computer, the Apple ][ europlus (the ][ plus for Europe). It was a thing of beauty, and held its own against the Vic 20, Commodore 64, Atari games boxes and just about everything else that popped into existence at the time.

Even when we moved over to a PC, there was still a feeling we’d traded down, not up. Beige boxes were hardly the things dreams were made of.

I regained the love back in 2001 with my first ever Mac, the aluminium PowerBook, 11 inches of screen, lovely small keyboard and a general sense of well-being in the face of the abominable Windows variants.

Everything was easier, simpler. More streamlined.

A friend once remarked: You buy a PC if you want tech support, you buy a Mac to do work.

And over the years I bobbed between different Macs, a bubble iMac g3, a G4 PowerMac (two actually), a clamshell iBook (a laptop with a handle! What a useful little machine! And even though it was nicknamed the “toilet seat”, I could build magazines, do writing and even a little graphic design on this baby), and a white iBook too (less impressive in the handle department, but still a nice piece of kit). Never once did I think of going back to the worrying world of PC. Every subsequent version of the Mac OS improved things, streamlined and kept things clear and easy to use. Every subsequent version of Windows, that I could see, turned peoples hair whiter and whiter, and apoplectic rage ruled the day when trying to network the damn things together.

I remember a moment with some friends in my car. Four macs connected within seconds creating their own wireless network. To this day, Windows can’t do stuff like that.

A couple of years ago, I dabbled with Ubuntu 12 on a machine I found on the side of the road, but it had no utility; everything it could do, my Macbook could do better. It was a white one, purchased in 2008, and had run 10.5 (the first operating system I’d ever bought), and 10.6. And it worked well and kept me going for seven years.

Over time, I found Apple’s own software was becoming bloated (iTunes and iPhoto were the main contenders for The Biggest Loser). They’d started out as such innovative, simple ways to manage music and photos and became feature-heavy and difficult to use.

So I investigated alternatives and got out of using pre-packaged software in favour of open source which lightened the load. VLC was a great alternative to iTunes, and I found a piece of software which would do everything iPhoto could, but wouldn’t hide my photos under endless metadata. The only thing iTunes did which there is no alternative for, was the music and video store. To this day I’m unsure of how to substitute this, and I expect I’ll have to use iTunes in an emulator.

But I digress…

The Macbook wasn’t perfect though. Trying to plug in the DVI output to an HDMI TV was an exercise in extreme frustration; I ended up finding out the on-board video card in Macs had some kind of handshake issue where it wouldn’t bother communicating with the HDMI on the other end, and so picture and audio would just disappear. But this was overcome with Plex media server and an ethernet cable, so it was all tickety-boo again.

But upon purchase of the new 2012 Macbook Pro, things took a nosedive.

Prior to purchase, I upped the hard drive capacity and maxed-out the memory. And to this day it is sluggish as hell. Upon unpacking, I made a fatal mistake: I upgraded the operating system – as recommended in the App store – to Mavericks. This was a sub-optimal decision. It failed twice on install, and the mac was never quite the same again.

Mavericks introduced some irritations which I was sure I’d pointed and laughed at in Windows Vista. Why the hell was I being prevented from using software I’d downloaded? Turned out I had to go to Finder and right-click>open on the application then choose deliberately to open before the system would allow me to use it.

But the hardware was the bigger issue. Apple was kind enough to replace the logic board, but it didn’t solve the majority of the problems.

It was the sleep issue which drove me to despair. You know on older Macs when you close the lid and you’ve got a sliver of red on the battery indicator and ten seconds before the whole thing powers down? Then when you open the lid again, and plug in the power, it’ll restore from a hard drive backup, slowly becoming clearer on the screen while the status blobs illuminate? Well I have this on my brand new fully charged Macbook pro, all the bloody time. And even when the screen comes back, it takes another minute for the mouse to become active. Mac experts and service people repeatedly told me there was nothing wrong with the machine.

It’s only recently I’ve discovered this is, in developer parlance, a feature, not a bug. It turns out because of some European directive, computers have to deactivate fully while in powered sleep mode, rather than staying on standby. That Mac rolled this out across the board is logical from a purely business standpoint – why have Macs that operate one way in one region of the planet and operate differently everywhere else? – it’s really painful to have a fully charged computer and have to go off and make a cup of tea while the damn thing wakes up. It’s like I’m using a 386 computer running MS DOS.

Alone, that would be a poor excuse to cut ties with the company that I’ve enjoyed for so long. However, the operating systems and software though provide a more than ample excuse.

If Mavericks was a step backwards, Yosemite had a shovel and started digging.

The UI looked very snazzy, but it seemed less than the sum of its parts. It was like by flattening the icons and display, the experience of using the software was similarly rendered two dimensional.

And where the hell did the scrollbars go (another hunt through Google to find how to turn them back on again)? And why when I upgraded, did some of my software stop working? Well, it was because Apple engineers had introduced a new security feature (again, very Vista-like) which I had to research online and actually go in as an administrator and hack the bloody system.

Copying from external hard drives is similarly vexing. Partway through a copy, Finder will conk-out and declare the destination drive is full (it’s not. It’s got Two Terabytes on it, ninety percent of which is EMPTY!). And it does this over and over again. Doesn’t matter how the drives are formatted, whether they’re connected directly to the computer or networked over wi-fi or Ethernet, the same damn message happens. I’m now at a point where I’m copying individual files and hoping for the best.

(And before you go on about Time Machine, and other solutions, this is for a NAS I’m setting up, and the drive connected to the router must be a specific format, which Time Machine doesn’t accept, because “Reasons”. I could also use Terminal commands to transfer from “A” to “B”, but my point is that This Shouldn’t Be Hard.)

Now occasionally upon Restart, the screen alternates between a blank white screen, a world icon, to the apple icon, to the folder question mark and back to the apple icon. I think it’s dying and I have to say if it were an animal, I’d put it out of its misery. And given the annoyance and despair this Mac has invoked in me, it’ll be with a hammer.

As an experience, an overall sense of usability and utility, it feels to me that this isn’t Apple any more. You know, the company that ran the “I’m a Mac” ads a decade ago. But rather than becoming stodgy and conservative business-computers, it’s become an obscene fashionista. Don’t get me started on the $10,000 iWatch. This is what luxury brands like Dolce Gabanna or Louis Vuitton would do. Apple is no longer the cool kid with the edgy, interesting, innovative approach to computing, music and video. It’s entered parody-space, where four or five versions down the track, an Apple computer will have two buttons to encapsulate the entirety of Human expression.

And to add insult to injury, I feel like one of those music fans who eternally pines for the “old stuff”, the stuff that the band made before they got Really Big. I used to roll my eyes at people like that, but now I’m one of them.

No good deed goes unpunished

Or

Reporting gas and water leaks in Victoria

So I try to be a good citizen in the state I live. And by that I mean, if I see an obvious issue, I try to help. So for example, I gave first aid a couple of years ago to a bike rider who’d been hit by a car. More recently I saw an old man wandering around in his pyjamas, so called the police then an ambulance.

Today I tried to report a gas leak. Continue reading “No good deed goes unpunished”

The problem with long form copywriting

I received an unexpected marketing email today from what appeared to be a site I hadn’t subscribed to. My first instinct was to mark the message as SPAM, but then I dug a little deeper. Continue reading “The problem with long form copywriting”

Windows service call

I’ve been waiting YEARS to get one of these. The nefarious parasitic Windows Service Call which costs between $120 and $180 to remove nonexistent compromises to your system.

I took a recording for posterity and may actually upload it here once I work out how to get it off the damn phone. Grr!

Highlights included:

  • Telling the caller that I had to go turn the computer on (put down phone, feed the cat).
  • Wondering what the Windows R command was for (actually I’d forgotten. That’s where Google Search comes in handy).
  • Getting the fraudster to repeat what I was supposed to type into the Run window.
  • Doing a rather fast search for screenshots of the Windows Event Viewer window which I’m including below for your visual pleasure
All those red crosses! Bad Windows! Bad!
All those red crosses! Bad Windows! Bad!
  • Getting repeat business on what’s under the Event Viewer root node
  • Managing to avoid laughing out loud when the caller said “Oh dear” at the six red crosses, and then querying him on the costs involved with getting rid of them: $120 to $180. They work hard in these call centres.
  • Engaging in debate about the relative merits of McAffee with the caller: apparently it will only deal with viruses, not this kind of exploit. He’s actually right if you think about it.
  • Asking what else I can do in the Run window? He was good, he kept on topic and guided me through firing up internet explorer and going to a screen sharing site.
  • Dropping a hint when I said my TOR browser wouldn’t allow me to download a file from a screen sharing site. He missed the reference entirely.
  • Telling him someone had called at the door and setting up my dinner to cook.
  • Telling him I was an IT professional and was using a Mac with Mavericks. The glory of his response in still trying to con me was awesome!
  • Asking if his religion was okay with him conning the less knowledgeable. No response.

Seriously, these people are the creeps of the cosmos.

Read more about Windows cold call scams:

It’s hello Facebook, and goodbye Moves

I’ve been using the rather nifty, well designed iPhone exercise application Moves for several months and wrote about it here. It was clean, uncluttered and didn’t have feature bloat unlike many competitors.

Two weeks ago, all users of Moves got an email which told us the news it has been bought by Facebook. But the email made it clear that it would be business as usual and that no changes were planned.

Well, that was then. This is now.

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 9.46.14 pm

Today I received the new Updated Terms and Privacy Policy, and kudos to the people who wrote it, because the clauses are definitely clear and easy to understand. The one in particular I’d draw the reader’s attention to concerns the use of my data:

We may share information, including personally identifying information with our Affiliates (companies that are part of our corporate groups of companies, including but not limited to Facebook) to help provide, understand and improve our Services

Not quite the Business As Usual everyone was promised a couple of weeks ago.

I don’t begrudge anyone selling their hard work for scads o’cash. I do begrudge my data being grabbed by a company like Faccia Libro for their own nefarious purposes (and I’m aware of the irony of saying this, as I have a little-used account AND use Google for my email and document management).

I know Google is evil, but they’re evil and well organised which helps me. At this point, they’re fast becoming the Microsoft of the internet to be honest.

Cara Libro on the other hand is little more than a wall to graffiti things on. So why then do they make their User Interface such a complete PITA to use? Don’t believe me? Try deleting more than one friend at once, or finding your security settings.

Indeed, Mark Zuckerberg’s evil minions seem to have an interesting approach to changes to the system: To get their annoying features and look good because they’ve “listened” to the community, they over-promise the bad then pull back. They’re like teenagers pushing the envelope; they’ll threaten something awful (e.g., “I never want to see you again!”) Then when it suits them, they’ll ask you for some cash to go have a coffee. And because you’ve been so hurt by their original statement, and who wouldn’t be because it’s got your whole life in it, you might just give them that money because, hey, they backed-down and are now talking to you. Instead of a sledgehammer, it’s a poke in the face with a blunt stick. Blunt sticks can take eyes out after a while though.

So, to avoid my location data and attempts at exercise being used by Das Buch  to advertise running shoes, diet programmes and plastic surgery at me, I am forced to bid Moves farewell and will start trialling Runkeeper and will see how that goes. The User Interface isn’t quite so funky, but it seems to work thus-far.

But it’s such a pity to go: the Moves interface was really clear and simple (far more than any other competitor) and it didn’t have any annoying other features to contend with (I don’t want to compete with other people. I hated sports at school. I just want to see how much exercise I’m getting).

Thankfully there is an unsubscribe link in the email from Moves. It would seem they are expecting people to say “No Way Facebook”.

I hope the designers spend the cash wisely though, and enjoy the fruits of their labour.

You can unsubscribe from Moves here:

accounts.moves-app.com

The most expensive bookcase in Australia

George Brandis, Australia’s 36th Attorney General has expensive tastes in bookcases. While in opposition he ordered a $7000 set of shelves to house his $13000 worth of taxpayer-funded reading material. It’s said that if the shelves were laid end-to-end, it would be bigger than an Olympic swimming pool. That’s 50m for those not in the know.

Moving into government has left George without anywhere to put his books as the old shelves didn’t travel well. But not to worry, he’s ordered some new ones at a cost of $15,000. Apparently these come with a ladder and can be dismantled a bit easier.

The bookshelf that George Built, with a little help from his friends. No, that’s a Joe Cocker song…

Given that knowledge is power, I decided to work-out what the original shelves should have cost so that I was forearmed with appropriate knowledge for criticising the cost of the new.

Comparing shelves

The ever-faithful Billy bookshelf

Let’s assume each of the seven sections of the existing shelves is equivalent to the ever-reliable Ikea Billy bookshelf, retailing for around $70. The Billy is slightly shorter than what I’d estimate is the actual height of George’s shelves, but it’ll give us a ballpark figure to work from. Seven sections for seven Billys; Sounds like a Rogers and Hammerstein musical to me.

Even if we were to quadruple the value of the Billy, we would still get the bookshelves for under $2000.

The Billy advantage is their ease of assembly and disassembly, which beats the current shelves hands-down. However, a flatpack is probably pushing the envelope for our George, given his workload and despite the fact he’s got a squabble of aides who could be very handy with an Allen Key.

Let’s go to the professionals

 

Where people to go to grab stuff to build other stuff. Usually with nails.

The most patriotic timber to make the shelves from would be Tasmanian Oak, a hardwood which I’m assured by my local Bunnings store is the most expensive timber they’ve got at $151 each. Marine Ply was the recommended backing-board, which clocks-in at a hefty $79 per sheet.

The man I spoke to was extremely helpful, and I’d recommend going into the Northcote branch if you ever feel the need to build a stupendously expensive set of bookshelves.

The structure

Tasmanian Oak comes in sections of 600 x 29 x 4.5cm, which should be just right for this job. Based on pictures of the shelves, it looks like approximately 80m of this noble timber for construction. That’s seven meters by three meters with 70 shelves.

We would therefore need approximately 13 pieces of timber (80/6 = 13.33). Let’s call it 15m to be on the safe-side.

Cost: 15 x $151 = $2265 (call it $230o and we’ll buy some nails and a hammer to assemble them with).

The backing

As we’re talking about a 7 x 3m shelving unit, we will need around 21 square meters of backing.

Marine Ply measures 2.5 x 1.2m and we’ll need seven of them for the bottom and 3 and one half for the top, cutting these in half to make-up the excess required. Let’s call it four to be on the safe-side as I doubt Bunnings will sell us a halves, even if we are representing the federal government.

Cost: 11 x $79 = $869 (Round this up to $900 and we can buy ourselves a tenon saw).

Finishing

The most expensive timber finish at Bunnings today is the Intergrain Ultraclear Interior finish, in a four litre can costing $134.50. It’s said to cover 14 square meters per can.

Based on previous measurements, we should be able to coat three pieces of timber per can with a little left-over for the edges, coating both sides of the timber with one coat. Fifteen pieces of timber would take five cans. Let’s call it 10 to make we have a good finish so George’s books can slide in and out without effort.

The backing is an even three square meters per sheet, and some mathematics gives us 33 square meters which will take 2.35 cans of the varnish. Again, we have to round-up, so that’ll be 3 full cans.

Cost: 10 cans + 3 cans = 13 x $134.50 = $1748.50 (call it $1800 to include a reasonably decent paintbrush).

Construction

My friend at Bunnings described this as “a bloody big shelf”, and he’s right. The whole thing would need to have a lot of heavy books in it to avoid falling over and prematurely ending the life of any errant politician who might wander beneath it.

Thankfully George has the books and the will to use them.

Ballpark figures for this work is approximately $100 per hour for a suitably professional job, about six times the minimum wage in Australia. At a conservative estimate, the job would take 20 hours to complete.

Cost: 20 x $100 = $2000

Grand total

All-told the total cost of this outrageously guesstimated exploit is $6965, just shy of the $7000 spent on the originals.

So the conclusion one can draw is that for our erstwhile leaders, quality costs serious money, and that to get that in Australia, you should expect to pay top-dollar.

I wonder what the workers of SPC, Toyota and Holden will make of that?

Addendum: This article was written a week ago, but held-over because I’d submitted it for publication. Better luck next time seems to be what I can read from the silence I’ve received…

Opinion: Australian politicians are well-paid children

I know it’s a vast generalisation, so I’ll refine this somewhat by saying this:

The behaviour of the politicians in the lower house of the Australian parliament reminds me of children with poor impulse-control.

What is laughably termed “debate” in parliament is nothing more than adults yelling and screaming at one-another. These people hold our futures in their very hands, have the power to do good for the Australian people, and  are paid handsomely for their time and effort.

Christopher Pine, architect of an astonishingly poorly-handled education funding policy did this:

The irony of the Federal education minister, Christopher Pyne, acting like a child.

Is there some imperative of parliament that those who operate within its walls must become an undisciplined pack of children, while declaring the rest of us must act like adults and accept economic realities, tighten our belts and put-up with job-losses, education uncertainty and questionable diplomatic decisions with Indonesia and China.

The self-important and arrogant attitudes of these people puts me in mind of the DSM IV-TR diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. As far as I can tell, the politicians in question meet the criteria of five or more symptoms:

I’m not saying this is exclusively a Liberal party issue, the recent debacle with the Labor party puts them in the same boat. What I am saying is that we need leaders not children, we need care and empathy not contempt and most of all, we need people we can trust in power.