Friday, September 24, 2010

Pointing at my iMac

After using a Commodore 64 for several years I purchased my first PC in 1989.  It was an Everex Step 386.  It got raves in all the computer magazines. It came with Microsoft DOS 4.0.

 (Click on the picture to read about all the advanced features.)

In my notes I listed the cost of its various components:
    25 Mhz. 4 Mbyte. Computer   $4000.00
    80 Megabyte Hard Drive      $ 850.00
    1.44M Floppy                $ 110.00
    NEC 13" Montor              $ 667.00
    VGA Graphics Card           $ 350.00
    Serial Interface            $ 100.00
    Math Co-Processor           $ 600.00
    6.5% Sales Tax              $ 434.00
               Total            $7111.00

According to this site, $7,111.00 in 1989 is equivalent to $12,699.00 today.  My entire system (including software and an Apple Postscript printer) cost about $13K back then.  Money well spent. 

Over two decades I owned a succession of ever faster, ever cheaper PC computers.  During those years I developed a deep antipathy for all Microsoft products.  This was especially true of their operating systems.  But I was stuck with those because my principal work program, Score, still runs under DOS.

My hatred for Bill Gates' products grew extreme and I wanted a way to vote against Microsoft with my future purchases.  Rest assured that I am leaving a number of lengthy anti-Microsoft rants out of this post.  My obvious choice, of course, was to switch to Apple.

I can pinpoint the moment at which my mind was made up.  In 2008, PC Magazine, which I had been reading since before I purchased the Everex, ran an article called OS Wars, The Battle for Your Desktop.  It declared Apple OSX the winner (computer magazines like to declare winners).  The article suggested the best OS for different professions, including:
Mac OS. The other artsy people will laugh at you if you use anything else.
You think I would have figured that out for myself - all my clients and most of my friends use Macs.  When the PC magazines are telling me to get a Mac, even I got the message.

So, last fall, I ordered a 24" iMac for $2,059.00 - or one sixth the price the Everex would have cost today.    The Mac is 120 times faster than the Everex and has 1000 times the RAM and 12,500 times the hard disk space.

It arrived exactly one year ago today, September 24.  Here's what it looked like.  (I did take it out of the box just after snapping this picture.  Notice the completely useless book Switching to the Mac on the desk next to the box.)

Suddenly faced with doing daily tasks, I discovered the real meaning of switching from PC to Mac.  Yes, those clever television ads ("I'm a PC" "I'm a Mac") would have you believe that switching is SO simple.  Possibly true, I suppose, for a more casual user.   But I've had two decades to form my computer-using ways - by which I mean that many of my work habits are set in stone.  Every old familiar task became a new adventure.

Would it be so hard to throw a bone to possible Windows-to-Mac converts with a few Windows-mode options?  Suddenly having to do things the Macintosh OSX way was very frustrating.  For the first few months I swore at my new computer just as much as I had ever railed at any of my Windows computers.   And I bitched to any Mac user who'd listen.  Most of them wouldn't.  "Mac users are like pre-verbal infants." I'd say.  "If they want something, they point at it."  There were plenty of times I regretted my purchase.

Here's a couple examples:
  • Every program, Mac and PC, has a menu bar: File, Edit, View etc.  On PC there is easy access to these commands from the keyboard - Alt-F opens the File menu, then every sub-menu has a letter highlighted to show how to invoke it.  I used these extensively on PC.  Mac has a similar but completely irrational function.  You're supposed to be able to customize the behavior (although I can't get that to work.)
  • On PC, if a Window is not in front but you can still see it, if you click on a visible command it is invoked.  On Mac you must click twice - first to bring the window forward, then again to invoke the command.  Curiously, Apple's own software iTunes works like a PC in this regard.
  • Switching windows using Alt-Tab on a PC is straight forward.  If you tab to the running program you want, it appears.  On OSX, after 1 full year of trying to suss the rationale behind Command-Tab, I can not predict whether or not a window will open when I switch to it.
  • Apple keyboards are crap.  The computer came with a free-standing laptop keyboard.  I replaced this with a mushy, plastic, older Apple keyboard which I hate less than the first one but at least it has all the keys.  The writing on the wall in Apple land is that keyboards are old fashioned.  All those iPads, iPods, iPhones and MagicMice make it clear that in the future if you want something you should just point at it.
I guess I'm learning to ignore the petty annoyances with which Mac burdens a PC user.  I occasionally find suitable workarounds.  There are probably geeky ways of fixing the other vexations, but life is too short.  I dream of waking up one morning completely able to use Unix, the foundation of OSX.  It's easier to put up with the hassles.

And, yes, there are good things about switching:
  • Music programs - especially Sibelius and the various plug-ins I use with it - run like a dream in comparison to Windows.  
  • OSX really is more stable.  It ran for over 60 days without rebooting once.  It might still be going except that Leslie pulled the power cord out with her foot.  
  • I love the beautiful screen and graphics - although sometimes it takes a bit of negotiating with Leslie to decide who gets to use the iMac first.
  • Microsoft Windows runs directly on the iMac using a translator program.  This means I didn't have to purchase an expensive new copy of Photoshop and I can keep using certain geeky Windows only programs on the Mac.  I'm still using all three of the computers I had before albeit for fewer, more specific tasks.  I now have even more Windows computers than I used to (if you count the Mac as one).  In my experience computers don't get replaced, they multiply.
All in all - I do like having the Macintosh.  Now that I've got one, I'll probably always want to have one.  I doubt I'll ever be a Mac only person.  Having the Mac has both made my computing life both simpler and more complicated.

And someday, maybe, when I go back and forth between Windows and Mac I'll be able to remember when the close and minimize buttons are on the left (OSX) and when they're on the right (Windows).  That will be a great day. 

Pre-Verbal Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, September 16, 2010

In which Mixed Meters Turns Five

On September 16, 2005 - exactly five years ago today -  I posted the first three articles to this blog Mixed Meters.  Yes, three in one day.   Here's the entire first post "In Which David Fails to Find An Interesting First Comment":
Every new adventure begins with the words "Why am I doing this?" It would be so much easier not to bother trying new things.

If you, future person reading these words, discover that this blog hasn't changed in months . . . years . . . then you'll know I couldn't find a good answer for the question.

My philosophy will be . . . keep it short.
In the following two weeks I published 14 more articles:
  • In which David Reveals What He Listens to While Listening to NPR
  • In which David Rewrites the Pledge of Allegiance
  • In which David Plugs Ham Hocks and Cornbread
  • In which David Introduces a New Character
  • In which David First Refers to His Hair
  • In which David Eats Cheese Before Bed
  • In which a Docker Award goes to Oolon Colluphid
  • In which David Hears Things
  • In which David Envies the Leisure Classes
  • In which David Collects Random Thoughts
  • In which David Doesn't Often Go To the Movies, But...
  • In which David Links to Writers He Respects
  • In which David Has A Clarinet Flashback
  • In which David Rants About His Wireless Router
Read all of them, in reverse order, by clicking here.

Today, in 2010, after more than 500 posts which are always way longer and much less frequent than those early ones, I realize the utter foolishness of me ever trying to keep things short.  And the question "Why am I doing this?" has as yet to find an answer.

And ... I'm still blogging.  Go figure.

Here's a picture of me on my actual fifth birthday - in 1956:

After a period of practice blogging I formally announced Mixed Meters in an email on Nov. 1, 2005:
To Friends, Relatives, Colleagues, Clients, People With Whom I've Exchanged At Least One Email Within Five Years, People Who Send Me Repeated E-mail Promotions and Others:

DAVID OCKER HAS BLOGGED.  It's called MIXED METERS.  I know you're all thrilled.  Please check it out.

I've been posting to it for about a month.  It's mostly about the music I enjoy, but there are also remarks about politics, movies and the pop culture to which I'm subjected.  Plus silly rants and pictures. Lots of links.

You can listen to selected 30 Second Spots.  These are half-minute low-fidelity Midi pieces which I've been writing.  Click on "Read about 30 Second Spots" for an explanation.

I've even created the Docker Awards - presented only to fictitious characters so far. They're kind of like Grammys or Oscars, only more pointless.

I try to keep everything short.  Expect a new post two or three times a week - at least until I get bored.  That will happen sooner if no one is reading.  So you know what to do.  (And please tell your friends.) Thanks.
I like it when people read what I post, but let's face facts - Mixed Meters has not set the Internet on fire.  I do seem to have a few really engaged readers.  I am very grateful to you for returning repeatedly.  My range of subject matter can't make Mixed Meters easy to understand, so I assume that on some level you're kindred spirits.

Sometimes I claim that Mixed Meters has only three readers.  That's supposed to be a small joke.  On the Internet the important metric isn't readers, it's hits.  Here's the five-year history of MM's daily hit counts:

Pretty erratic, huh?  Some of the features do have explanations.  Letter A, for example, represents the initial email announcement above.  Letter B is my first post about Frank Zappa, an article entitled Varese, Zappa, Slonimsky.

Letter C marks a post called In Which David Is Confused By The Second Coming.  I wrote about a hip hop artist, Juelz Santana, who had used the Dies Irae in a track which became part of a Nike television commercial.  I was interested in Dies Irae while other people were interested in Juelz.  Fortunately that wore off.

The single busiest day was November 16, 2008 (D) when Mixed Meters was hit up 415 times.   A few days later I posted about Hitler, Wagner and Ring Festival LA for the first time.  You can plainly see that the hit count has declined steadily ever since.  The increase in green on the graph suggests that some people have begun exploring Mixed Meters once they get here, not just landing on one page and then surfing off again.

Also notice the mysterious trough at letter E.  I don't know what it represents.  Maybe it was some sort of glitch at Google.  A large portion of MM hits originate from Google.

All in all, I think Mixed Meters has been good for me.  I'm happy when I'm working on it.  I think I'll keep doing it.  Its real purpose, I suppose, is to reflect my interests.  It's just that I have no real clue about what will interest me next.

Please feel free to explore what's already here while I figure out what's to come.  Here are some starting points ...
... plus much, much more.  You could try searching the so-called archives.  Let me know what you find.
    Things that happened on September 16, 2005, according to the L.A. Times
    Things that happened on September 16, including 2005, according to Wikipedia.

    Mixed Meters Tags: . . . . . .

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    My Trilobite

    Sometime last year I was looking for a book to read.  I picked up Leslie's copy of Trilobite, Eyewitness to Evolution by Richard Fortey.  Fortey is a trilobite expert and a highly praised author of books about science for non-scientists.  I found his writing to be equally fascinating and wearisome.
    • Trilobites are extinct marine arthropods. 
    • Arthropods are animals. 
    • Living arthropods include shrimp, crabs and insects. 
    • Marine arthropods live in the sea. 
    • Extinct arthropods are known only through their fossil remains. 
    • People who study fossils are called paleontologists. 
    • Richard Fortey is a paleontologist who works at a natural history museum.  
    • Leslie, my resident biologist, also works at a natural history museum.
    • She can explain these things much better than I can.
    Fortey's best known work is Life, An Unauthorized Biography. It deals with 4 billion years of evolution, beginning with one-celled critters and ending with you and me.  In the preface Fortey says that he wrote Trilobite because in Life he could only give "a page or two" to his passion for trilobites.  That gives you an idea of how important trilobites, which existed for about 275 million years, were to evolution.  Can you say "dead end"?

    Trilobite impressed on me just how strange these animals must have been.  And of course I have a strong affinity for "strange".  Pictures of trilobite fossils show bizarre, segmented, armored, tentacled little creepy crawlies perfect to be cast in a horror movie or as some threatening species on an alien planet where astronauts accidentally crash their spaceship.

    I wanted one of my own.  Leslie picked up on a few hints that I dropped.  She's very good that way.  For my recent birthday she presented me with a genuine trilobite fossil.  Here it is.  (Click any of the pictures for enlargements.)

    My little guy came with this scant information:
    • Fossil Trilobite Phacops speculator
    • Age: Devonian Period
    • Classification: Phacops speculator
    • Location: Anti-Atlas Mountains Alnif, Morocco
    • Origin: Hammar L'aghdad Limestone
    "Anti-Atlas" mountains?  Are there Pro-Atlas mountains somewhere?   And where is Alnif?  Here are more pictures of fossils from Alnif.

    You'll notice that this particular Pracops speculator is curled up in a ball.  Trilobitologists say it is "enrolled" - although they never talk about trilobite schools.  It's likely that trilobites which were afraid something was about to kill them curled up to protect their soft undersides.  Getting encased in muck was probably a pretty traumatic experience.

    Whoever chipped away the limestone in which this particular critter was discovered left a little base for it to stand up upon.  It's like a small statue.  A trilobite bust.

    I have no clue about the phrase "Hammar L'aghdad Limestone".  The Internet is no help.

    So when was the Devonian Period?  Well, roughly it was 416 to 359.2 million years ago.  That's how long it has been since my Pracops speculator curled up in a ball and died.   That long ago Morocco could have been almost anywhere.  And the Anti-Atlas mountains didn't even exist yet.

    I now present The Mixed Meters Method for Conceptualizing How Long Ago My Trilobite Lived.

    STEP ONE: Imagine all the things which have happened since the year one, 2010 years ago, from Jesus to Justin Bieber.  Think carefully about the changes in religion, technology, society, language and government since then.  Think of all the people who have lived and died.  Think of all the arthropods which have lived and died.  Remember that there have been 734,406 days since the beginning of year one, days just like today.  A lot has happened since the year one.

    STEP TWO: Count to 500.  For each number from one to five hundred, repeat STEP ONE.  This may take you a while.  If each number between one and five hundred represents two millennia, which you considered in step one, then when you get to 500 you have thought about one million years.

    STEP THREE:  Repeat steps one and two each day for one entire year.

    Have you done all that?  Once you successfully complete steps one, two and three you have conceptualized 365 million years.  That long ago would put you back near the end of the Devonian period  when my trilobite lived.

    For a guy celebrating his birthday, the last birthday before the first digit of his age number increments yet again, this little fossil was a really good gift.  Envisioning how extremely old it is makes me feel quite young by comparison.

    Thanks, Leslie.  Love you.

    I took the first three pictures with Leslie's fancy schmancy camera.  The last two were taken with the point and shoot in my pocket.  They're not as good but I always say "you can never have too many pictures of your own personal trilobite."

    Pracops speculator Tags: . . . . . .