Geek stuff

Declutter your Mac!

This will only be of interest to (a few) other Mac users. But, for what it is worth …

For years, I’ve taken the easy option and just installed one version of Mac OS on top of another, and migrated files from one computer to another. And, all credit to Apple, the easy option has worked just fine. Well, almost. Still, there was a lot of legacy software cluttering up my laptop, loads of ancient files buried in the Library, even bits and pieces of OS 9 stuff, and it wasn’t always clear what could and couldn’t be trashed. And there was a growing number of small glitches (at the level of e.g. some DevonThink scripts not working, Skype always forgetting my account details, a newsreader never quitting gracefully, and so on — you know, the sort of thing you decide you can live with after you’ve spent the first hour failing to sort it). But the newest glitch was the new MobileMe sync service just not recognizing the laptop. And unlike the others, this bug was more seriously annoying. So yesterday I thought the time had perhaps come to clean things up and get back to basics.

I took the nuclear option. With some trepidation. So I archived calendars and address book, made a backup of the whole drive (a second proper clone, not a TimeMachine archive), did an erase-and-install for Leopard, and ran the system updates. Moved back Safari bookmarks, address book, calendars (the mail lives on anyway). Installed iLife. Copied back the main documents folder — which was in any case in a reasonably tidy state — and the iPhoto library. Installed the latest MacTeX LaTeX distribution. Downloaded the latest versions of NoteBook, DevonThink Pro and SuperDuper (the three bits of non-Apple software I’ve bought and still make serious use of), and then the free TextWrangler, Camino and Skype.

And that’s about it, apart from syncing with my iPod. (If I find I actually need anything else, I’ll reinstall it from the backup, as and when. Since you can QuickLook at Word documents, I think I can probably even manage without Open Office.)

It took about five hours in all. Everything is working again now just fine. I have oodles more hard disk space. The little glitches I knew about have disappeared. MobileMe seems very happy. And a lot of other things are just a bit snappier (or is that imagination?). So, it all seems to have been very well worth doing. And the process was painless.

So if like me, you have a cluttered Mac, with annoying little bugs here and there, it really is worth drawing a deep breath, hitting the erase button, finding a good book to read as you watch the progress bars, and putting back together what you actually need. And — being kinda useful, even if not what you most ought to be doing — it makes for another great bit of structured procrastination.

Spluttering into my coffee again

Earlier than usual coffee this morning, waiting for the new Cambridge Apple Store to open for the first time around the corner. (I foolishly thought I’d be able to wander in to take a look at a real-world MacBook Air. Duh! There was a queue hundreds long waiting in line to get in. I’m geeky but I’m not that geeky yet.)

Anyway, reading the Guardian. More foolish sounding off about religion, this time by Seumas Milne.

This has been the decade of liberal rage against religion … the anti-religious evangelists are increasingly using atheism as a banner for the defence of the global liberal capitalist order and the wars fought since 2001 to assert its dominance.

Ye gods. Here, just for a start, is that well-known evangelist Richard Dawkins in full tilt “defending” the Iraq war … in the Guardian.

Later: I eventually got to the Apple Store, and got my hands on a MacBook Air. A thing of real beauty and very covetable (and somehow feels remarkably solid and sturdy in the hand, the keyboard feels lovely too, and the screen is stunning quality). Interestingly, the display desk with seven of eight of them was surrounded by groups of teenage girls (and judging by the photo booth snaps that had been left on the machines, had been for hours). Hardcore Macheads might raise their eyebrows about some of the limitation of MBA. But I suspect there are going to be a lot of style-conscious kids with indulgent parents who are going to pressing oh-so-hard for one!

Simple things are best.

I did fiddle around a bit today trying to get a hack to work for splitting long posts into an initial para or two, with the rest to be revealed by hitting a “Read more” link (if you want to know how to do it in Blogger, see here). But in the end, I decided I didn’t like the result. It’s not as if even my longest posts are more than about half-a-dozen moderate sized paragraphs (and it is a good discipline to keep it like that): so it is in any case easy enough to scan to the end of one post to jump on to the next. I’ll stick to the current simple format.

The Daughter recommended that I try OmniFocus ‘task management’ software which implements Getting Things Done type lists. Well, it’s not that I haven’t tasks to do, and the GTD idea really does work. But, having played about a bit with the beta version you can download, I reckon my life isn’t so cluttered that carrying on using NoteBook and iCal won’t work for me. Again, I think I’ll stick to the simpler thing.

Ahem …. Leopard stacks icons

It is seriously sad to care about these things. I know. But for those who are equally miffed by the Leopard update’s failure to sort the stack icon flaw — ok, it’s not exactly a bug but everyone thinks it is a quite daft design choice — I’ve just found a very elegant solution here. (Apologies to all those who haven’t the foggiest what I’m talking about!)

Oh no …. more geekery

I’ve just discovered — about eight months after everyone else — that WordPress (the cool alternative to Blogger for hosting/managing a blog) can handle LaTeX code, so can do nice looking logic stuff. I was already trying to resist following the daughter’s lead and migrating there, but this might tip the balance. Watch this space …

Leopard, second impressions

I’m still dosed up to the eyeballs and so finding it annoyingly difficult to concentrate on work. I am supposed to be thinking more about issues related to ACA0 — especially as I’m due to talk about this sort of stuff at Dan Isaacson’s seminar in Oxford in a couple of weeks. I certainly hope that normal brain functioning is restored sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, apologies for the consequent lack of any very interesting content here recently!

Still, I’ve been able to play with Leopard more than perhaps I’d have otherwise been able to. I’m still rather impressed. As well as the obvious things, there are lots of neat little improvements. To mention just one, being able to write yourself notes and handle reminders inside Mail turns out to be just very useful (more so than I’d have ever predicted). Of course, it is all very sad to get excited about things like that. But there it is. I’m sure I’ll get better soon.

Leopard, first impressions

Leopard arrived today, in its rather cool box. And I installed it by the book — the book in question being the useful, confidence-inspiring, and very inexpensive e-book Take Control of Upgrading to Leopard. So I used SuperDuper! to clone my MacBook Pro’s hard-disk onto a bootable external drive (well, two different ones actually), did an “erase and install” of Leopard, and then used the set-up assistant to migrate all my files back from one of the external drives. Doing things the longest way round like this, the whole business, after the initial cloning, took about two and a half hours. But much better safe than sorry. (The only hiccup was that the installer initially took a long term to recognize the presence of my laptop’s hard disk, which would have been distinctly alarming, had I not seen talk of the phenomenon on MacRumors. And apart from losing the Cisco VPN Client — the university computer services say they’ll have a Leopard-compatible replacement available in a day or so — everything seems to be working again just fine.)

What strikes you first, of course, is some of the eye-candy — e.g. the new dock, semi-transparent menu bar and menus, the folder icons. Quite a few mac reviewers have hated all these (e.g. see the ars technica review which is very informative about the under-the-bonnet improvements). Well, I’m all for the dock and I quite like the semi-transparent menu bar; the transparent menus are I think are far too transparent; and the “recycled cardboard” folder icons seem quite out of keeping with the space-age look of the rest of the UI. Or at least, that’s my two-pennyworth. And it is only worth about that much fuss (especially as my bet is that these things will be subtly adjusted in an early update for Leopard). Otherwise, the cleaned-up look of the windows across the system is all pretty neat, and the new Finder windows are that bit more useful. On the whole, things look terrific.

Still, looks aren’t everything: here are four things I instantly really like about Leopard, and which even just by themselves make the upgrade worthwhile:

  1. The whole system is consistently quite a bit snappier (e.g. one bounce and iCal with seven calendars is open, similarly for Mail).
  2. Cover Flow and Quick Look are amazingly useful, as well as very pretty. For example, I have a folder into which I park PDFs and other documents as I download them. I can now just instantly browse through the folder to see what is in the various documents without opening the relevant application(s), and can eventually file them away or trash as appropriate.
  3. Spaces is a very nicely implemented way of getting much cleaner work-spaces. I’m an immediate convert. (One space for Safari, Mail, etc.; another space for TeXShop windows; etc. Very uncluttered.)
  4. Time Machine is wonderful. I was already pretty good about cloning my hard disk to a pair of external drives, one at home and one at work. But inevitably you do foul up and accidentally delete stuff. So I’ve set up a new big external drive to be an automatic Time Machine archive whenever I’m in my little study at home (drives have become so cheap, there’s no reason at all not to err on the side of caution — it would just be too painful now to lose everything): and I will still carry on cloning onto the other drives. Feels very virtuous!

Worth waiting for (and it can only get better).

Harmless geekery

I was going to sound off on the subject of tripos reform: but on second thoughts, it’s probably safer to indulge in harmless geekery instead. So … (roll of drums):

  1. There’s now another much bigger, much better edition of the LaTeX Graphics Companion. It has, inter alia, some worryingly enticing/timewasting things to do with Beamer presentations … I suspect this might be fun.
  2. And from today you can pre-order Leopard which will of course make us all* so very much more productive, clear-thinking and happier. I just know this will be fun.

*For “all” read: all right-minded Mac users.

For Mac geeks …

I’ve just become a real convert to DevonThink, which seems to be by far the best solution for organizing a whole collection of downloaded PDFs of articles, stored emails, lecture notes and the like. I haven’t yet begun to explore its much-praised clever AI engine for e.g. finding other material related to some article. But even while I am just dumbly using it to search through a folder of PDFs and browse the results, I think it is going to earn its keep a dozen times over.

I wish I could find a use too for Scrivener which seems a great concept, beautifully implemented. But it just isn’t suitable for the way I write — everything I do these days seems to be symbol-laden, and is crying out to be done in LaTeX from the start. But if I ever write my great novel of the follies of academic life …

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