On the right device for the plane

Posted in Commentary, Geekfest on February 27th, 2011 by juan

## So I travel a lot

I’ve been on a plane a ton lately. Last year, for the first time in many, many years, I made platinum with Delta. However, even with that semi-rarified status, I still don’t get upgraded to first class all of the time. That means that I have to figure out how to spend my time in coach often. Very often. So lately, I’ve been using my ipad as “the device” on the plane. I can listen to music, do some light email, read a book, etc. – you know the drill. However, as you can tell from my previous post, I can not use the ipad for everything that I need it to be: a real computer. I can’t do email, correctly. I can’t — well, simply put – I can’t *create* on the ipad. Now, I do know that there’s apps that let you do a lot of stuff, but when it comes down to word processing, spreadsheeting (that sounds wrong somehow), and presentation creating, the ipad just won’t do.

The dilemma I have is that my work laptop is a very generously provided 17″ MBP. It’s an awesome laptop. The screen is beautiful, the horsepower is amazing, the hard disk size is stupendous, etc., etc. But – it’s *big*. Too big. I can’t open it in rookie class on the plane unless I happen to sit on an exit row. Even then, that means that I’m giving up the meager refreshments that are served to us during the flight. That laptop consumes all of my generous space allocation. I have on occasion gotten a drink and played the very dangerous balancing game of putting the drink __on my laptop__.

Enter the MacBook Air 11.6″. I’ve just come into possession of one. It is clearly an amazing piece of technology. The form factor is truly hard to describe, unless you actually hold one and use one. You do sacrifice a ton: screen real estate, cpu horsepower, storage space, and ports. My specimen happens to be a top of the line 1.6GHz, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM unit. In my mind – those are essentially minimum specs. They happen to be the maximum at this point, but they are what they are. That said, what you gain for that sacrifice is an laptop that you can actually forget you have in your hand. I closed it and was walking from my office to the kitchen when my daughter waylaid me and we started talking. 20 minutes later, I’m still standing there, and the laptop was honestly forgotten in my hand. It’s that light. That’s very cool.

I’ve been using it for a couple of days now. Battery life on this is rated at 5 hours. That turns out to be 5 real hours in my experience. As in, I did just about anything I would normally do during a day of using the laptop and it gave me about 5 hours. That’s actually fricking amazing. There’s few flights that I take that are much longer than 5 hours – and I suspect that if I’m careful with wifi, bluetooth, etc. I can get much more. The CPU you get on this is surprisingly fast. My office productivity apps (MS and Apple) all fire up nearly instantly – even the first time after a reboot. All thanks to that cool SSD drive. My spreadsheets are not monster computationally challenging things. My presentations are kinda creative, but don’t require supercomputer’s worth of processing to deliver. And even though I do create some pretty complex Word documents – everything is fast enough. I mean, can I tell the difference between this and my 27″ Core i7 Imac? You bet – but the beauty of it is – that I can use that whenever I’m home. I can usually reserve the long sessions of content creation to when I am around the super ‘puter. The 11″ air is way more than good enough. And that’s cool.

### oh and what about doing that email thing?

That is honestly, my number one annoyance with the pad. I can use it, just like I use my iphone, for quick emails and status checks. I can’t use it for __real__ email. That means doing real answers – which includes a lot of typing, documents, replies, flagging of importance, __and__ filing of emails.

Does the 11″ do this? Yes! It does, it’s a full computer. The whole thing. I mean everything. I can CREATE, FILE, DO IT ALL!!!

I’m giddy with excitement for having this cool thing.

### one more thing

It’s so small I can actually take it to bed. When I’m done using it, I close it and lay down on my nightstand. Without having to do the one arm sweep of everything else so it will fit. I wrote this whole article – in bed. My lap is not scorched. And I like it.

I like it a lot.

### so what do you do with the other computers?

The iMac will remain as the main production ‘puter. The 17″ MBP, will become the playground/take it on the road when you know you will need to do heavy duty content creation computer. The 11″ will become the default travel companion _along with_ the iPad. Media consumption will remain on the iPad. That’s what it’s made fore and it’s much better than OSX computers.

More on this once I actually travel with this thing.

Sorry for the length. Had to get it out while I was thinking about it.

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Posted in Commentary, Geekfest on February 18th, 2011 by juan

I’m back (and a review of the ZaggMate)

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything to this blog. Sorry about that. Had some issues with hackers, patience, a new baby, and laziness. It happens.

Things have changed much since I last wrote: baby, new mbp, imac, mac mini, iphone, and ipad. Yes, Apple has my garnished my wages in a very interesting way.

So – I figured a review would be a good way to bring this back to life. I love my iPad and I’ve been looking for a way to turn it into “the” tool to use while I’m flying. I really hate to lug around my 17″ MBP, specially on day trips. However, the iPad by itself is not really that efficient of a machine for me to sort the 100’s of emails. The onscreen keyboard is also difficult to use if you are trying to write anything but just a few sentences (better than an iPhone, but much less than a real keyboard). Zagg introduced the ZaggMate and some of the reviews said it was cool. I found out you could get one at a bestbuy and I did. My hopes were that it was going to at least let me reduce my backpack load down to two things: ipad+zaggmate and Clear hot spot. I tried it and this is what came of it:

The good:

  • The fit and overall polish is very high. It looks like it was made for the ipad.
  • The keyboard is pretty responsive and can keep up with me at my fastest, but that’s a limited thing because of some of the downsides
  • Battery life is rated at months and recharge time is very quick.
  • There are several function keys that are built into the keyboard that are nice touches: volume keys, media keys (ipod control) and screen keyboard controls.
  • Having a full keyboard makes things like SSH eminently usable now. Also using text note utilities that do things like Markdown are much more usable. You no longer need a special app, just to get the markdown symbols.
  • The case+ipad = real thin.

The bad:

  • The keyboard is not full sized, so it takes some getting used to. I definitely can not type as fast as I can with a real full sized keyboard. However, it is much faster than the onscreen keyboard.
  • There is no cutout for the headphone. That means that to use the ipad as an audio device, you have to take it out of the case. There’s not way to fit the case and the audio plugins at the same time. Period.
  • Once you take the ipad out of the case, you can not flip it over and put it back in the case. Basically, unless you are using it as a stand, you can not use the case. On my flight, before we took off, I had to take the ipad out, put the keyboard in the seat back and wait until we were up in the air before I could use it.
  • The f’ing caps lock key! The keyboard is small already and it’s really easy to hit the caps lock key. I don’t need that key. I wish there was a way to turn it off or remap it like there is in OSX.
  • The osx mail.app keyboard shortcuts don’t work. So – you use the keyboard only to type stuff in. Sending, moving, replying, deleting, etc are all done through screen interactions.- The back of the ipad is not protected while it’s in the case. You can get another thingy, but those are another $30-$70
  • The plastic thing that props the ipad up feels very cheap. I don’t trust it to survive in the long run

The final result = me returning the case this weekend. Cool experiment, but not really all there. The killers for me:

  • No back protection
  • No way for it to latch on the back when you are not using the keyboard
  • No audio hole
  • Flimsy build of the stand thing

On Essential software redux

Posted in Fanboy, Geekfest on March 29th, 2009 by juan

I’ve been far to quiet here for way too long. So, to kick things back up, here’s my redo of my most essential mac software. I’m doing this because this one post is the most visited page/entry to my blog. For those of you new to here, thanks and welcome. Hopefully you’ll find what I post here useful. If you compare this to my original post, you’ll see that this list has grown quite a bit. That’s a good thing. It probably shows that Mac software has come along a long way and also that the quality has gone up along the way.


  1. QuickSilver – It’s way hard to describe this tool, but I can’t imagine using a Mac without it. Think of it as speed for your Mac. There’s definitely a learning curve to this, but once you get over it, you won’t ever go back (free)
  2. Adium – Premium, way cool, instant messenger. Supports Yahoo, AOL, MSN, Jabber, Google, + many others (free)
  3. NetNewsWire – a very powerfull RSS reader, that also has an iPhone companion. They sync over a free service. (free)
  4. Transmit – IMHO, the best mac FTP client out there. It costs bucks, but they are worth it (check the next item for a free, almost as good program).
  5. Cyberduck – The FTP/SFTP client for Macs (free)
  6. Xee – The fastest, most feature rich image viewer I have been able to find for the Mac. (free)
  7. Firefox – if Safari won’t do it, this will (free)
  8. HandBrake – The easiest way to rip, transcode, and store DVD’s. Can be used for video iPods as well. (free)
  9. Unison – a great USENET news reader. Very Mac like interface, but has some odd edges to it
  10. MacVIM – The VI clone now with a real Mac GUI (Cocoa based). (free)
  11. VLC – The opensource Video viewer. If this doesn’t play it, you can’t play it on a Mac. (free)
  12. Flip4Mac – Microsoft has stopped supporting their video player and is now giving this as a Quicktime plugin instead. This works better than the media player ever did, but doesn’t work with DRM content. (free)
  13. CoRD – The best Mac RDP (Windows Remote Desktop Protocol) client out there. Simply great. Make sure to use one of the daily builds, they seem stable for me and bring much needed functionality. (free)CoRD – The best Mac RDP (Windows Remote Desktop Protocol) client out there. Simply great (free)
  14. Calibre – if you use an ebook reader (like I do), this is THE tool to manage your collection, convert it, and up/download it to your device (supports Sony, Kindle, and many others). (free)
  15. iCHM – An actively developed, fast, Cocoa based CHM document reader. If you don’t know what a CHM is, then you don’t need this. If you do, you must get this. (free)
  16. RapidWeaver – think iWeb done right. Think “build a web site fast, simple”. Think “there’s much hidden power”.
  17. Shimo – if you use VPN on your Mac, you need this to take care of it. It works with Cisco clients (lays on top of it) and many other VPN protocols (natively). Must have for us corporate users. (shareware)
  18. DropBox – a free service and utility to keep multiple computer’s data sync’d. They have Mac, Windows, and Linux clients as well as a Web interface. 2GB free space. More if you pay for it.
  19. iStatMenus – do you hate that you don’t know your memory usage, or if your hard disk is doing anything, or the temperature of your mac, or …. you get the idea. Free utility that sits on your menu bar and shows monitors for anything you want on your computer (free)
  20. 1Password – keep all of your passwords for all of your web-sites, accounts, etc. Autofills on Safari and Firefox (if you want). Also has a free iPhone companion you can sync with.
  21. ShoveBox – another one that’s hard to describe, but think of this as the place you shove, store, write all those little notes, links, screen grabs that you don’t know where to keep but know that you will need at some other point.
  22. Little Snitch – so, you have a firewall protecting what information comes in to your computer – Little Snitch does the same for the stuff going out of your computer.


  1. ecto – A blog editor. WYSIWYG and HTML formats. Let’s you edit with spell checking and live previews. (shareware)
  2. ImageWell – a simple, fast, well tuned image editor for bloggers (and anyone else that doesn’t need to ‘shop images) (shareware)
  3. SeaShore – a simple, fast, image editor for when you do need to do simple ‘shopping (free)
  4. Gimp – The opensource image manipulation program. (free)
  5. LaunchBar – Spotlight on steroids and then some (in my eyes a lesser, but simpler QuickSilver) (free)
  6. MacTheRipper – Another DVD ripper. This one doesn’t transcode, but it does a superb job of de-DRM’ing your collection. (shareware)
  7. TinkerTool – tinker with a zillion Mac options. (free)
  8. NameMangler – if you ever have to rename a bunch of files and hate doing the click, click, click thing, or the cli reg-ex dance, this is the tool to fix it all (free)
  9. OmniGraffle – The premier mac graphing tool. In many ways much better than Visio (which it can import and export to). A must if you have to deal with any schematic, styled, or hierarchical drawings.
  10. ScreenFlow – If you ever need to capture a video of what you have on your screen, annotate it, and share it with the world (a.k.a. screen casting), this is most likely the only tool you’ll ever need.
  11. SuperDuper! – A very powerful backup tool. This let’s you back up your hard drive to another very efficiently. You can also use it to upgrade your drive (will make the second drive bootable for you). (shareware)
  12. TiVo Decode Manager – if you have TiVo, and you want to take your recorded TV shows with you, this is a free tool equivalent to TiVo To Go. (free)
  13. JollysFastVNC – a super fast, very flexible VNC client. (free)
  14. Max – do you ever convert from one audio format to another? Do you want to do it fast, simple, and have a good workflow for doing this (including tagging)? Here you go.


  1. Azureus – the best torrent client. (free)
  2. BBEdit – the most feature rich native Mac editor. If it wasn’t for VIM, i’d use this all the time (shareware)
  3. Opera – a very nice, fast, feature rich web browser. (free)
  4. Path Finder – a Finder replacement. I would use this all the time if it was the built-in Finder. Many people use it exclusively. If Apple re-does the finder and gives is half of the features in this tool, we would all be that much better for it.
  5. REALBasic – If you want to code apps, but don’t want to get into the details of XCode, Cocoa, and a steep learning curve, this is the tool. It has much coolness including the ability to develop on a Mac and deploy native apps to Linux and Windows (and vice versa). Free Linux version. Mac/Windows are paid.

Depecrated (stuff that was cool before 10.5)

  1. Desktop Manager – Multiple virtual desktops with the coolest switch transitions. This alone has made people go “ooohhhh! I need a Mac” (free)
  2. Thoth – It was my preferred news reader for a long time. It appears that development on it has resumed, but I have not looked at it in a long time.
  3. Vim – The VI clone with a GUI interface. Already comes in a CLI format built in. Vim.org has the GUI version. (this is the original posting – a new better mac version is above). (free)
  4. RDC Menu – Let’s you launch multiple windows remote desktop sessions at the same time. (free)
  5. Spark – A key macro tool that lets you control your apps via keyboard shortcuts. I use it to control iTunes while it’s hidden. (free)

Outside of Safari.App, Mail.app, Microsoft’s Office, and iWork I spend 90% of my time in the stuff here.
Hope this helps you. If you see stuff that should be here, let me know. I’m always looking for other cool stuff.

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Kids grow up too fast

Posted in Fanboy, Geekfest on October 12th, 2008 by juan

And the iPhone is cool.

on Cocoa programming.

Posted in Commentary, Geekfest on September 7th, 2008 by juan


Still working through the decision process between ecto3 and marsedit.

I’m thinking I’m going to stay with ecto3 for now.

On the news side:

Started working my way through Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X by Aaron Hillegass. I’m about through the first 8 chapters. Things to know if you are going to be doing this:

  • This isn’t like working with Delphi, Visual Basic, Real Basic, or any of the other “object oriented” systems. This is much different.
  • You really should learn Objective-C first. Even though he says you should have a moderate knowledge of Objective-C, you really should spend time learning it well. The examples and “challenges” in this book assume a fair amount of knowledge. Some of the exercises and examples really don’t make that much sense until you spend time learning Objective-C.
  • It really helps if you have access to the Apple documentation. For example, in chapter 8, you go through some really cool stuff on bindings. For me it was completely magical until I went through the Apple “Cocoa Bindings Programming Topics”, “Key Value Coding Programming Guide”, and “Key Value Observing Programming Guide”. Once I worked through the basics of those documents, chapter 8 went from being a really mystical, chant invoking exercise, to more programming with some occasional leaps of faith.
  • Cocoa programming is based on some very extensive frameworks. If you are like me and you want to know how the frameworks work – don’t, yet. Just take some of the stuff as magic and assume that it works. Once I gave in to the “I’ll figure out how that works later” concept, this has started flowing better for me.

I’ll be posting more on this as I go through the exercises on this book. I’ve also started creating side challenges for myself to figure out how some of this stuff works. I’ll post those as well in case you need some additional views. Remember that I’m just learning this stuff so take this material as you would any other beginners: an example of how it possibly works correctly. To get you started, here’s a simple program that I wrote that uses a couple of controls, and a text field. The first one uses bindings to get it’s job done. The second one is the exact same, but uses an Object Controller to mediate the bindings. For me, until I saw both of these simple projects working, I couldn’t really “get” the different between just plain bindings and what an object controller bought for you. Check them out: myBindingsFun and myControllerFun.

Hope that helps someone

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let’s try marsedit for a change

Posted in Geekfest on April 20th, 2008 by juan

It’s hard to decide between ecto and marsedit. So I’m going to try marsedit for a little bit and see if it does better.

Note that Ecto is in late beta for version 3 which is complete rewrite. That means more fun for me while I try both of them out.

Have to tell you that so far, marsedit 2.1.2 seems a little bit easier to use and has a better preview mode.


ok – back to ecto and some really nerdy cool wii+mac stuff

Posted in Fanboy, Geekfest, OOTT on April 11th, 2008 by juan

Turns out that the Wiimote can be connected to the Mac via bluetooth. Apparently, there’s a ton of cool things you can do with this, including control all of the functions on your mac. You can use DarwiinRemote to pair the mote and nunchuck up. With it you can control VLC and most other media programs. Pair it up with RemoteBuddy and just about anything is possible.

If that’s not cool enough, some people have paired it up with some seriously cool audio processing tools (KymaX) with OSCulator. I’m in nerdery heaven. Check out this video:

That’s cool, but this stuff on the PC is even better. Someone – please port Johnny Lee’s stuff over:

A cool thing or two

Posted in Geekfest on April 11th, 2008 by juan

A few different places have been raving about Flock. It’s a web browser + rss reader + email reader + flickr/facebook/youtube/del.icio.us, and web blogger interface all in one. Not convinced that this is my thing, but worth a try. Posting thing post from there.

Also while I’m at it, check this out: Max from sbooth.org. Cool little util to transmorgrify your audio from one format to another.

Blogged with the Flock Browser


MacBook sleeping done right: SmartSleep

Posted in Fanboy, Geekfest, OOTT on March 18th, 2008 by juan

If you ever had a powerbook, you remember the almost instant sleep that happened when you closed your laptop. Somewhere in the late powerbook or macbook/pro timeframe, Apple changed the behavior from sleep (save contents in RAM only) to hibernate+sleep (save contents in RAM and dump to disk). There’s been undocumented PRAM settings that let you change the behavior so that you can select sleep, hibernate+sleep, or hibernate only. However, it was a setting that affected the system globally.

However, now Patrick Stein, the guy who wrote JollyFastVNC (should be a separate blog post), has released SmartSleep. From his website:


SmartSleep.prefPane is a preference pane that dynamically sets the sleep state of your machine. It’s a successor to Hibernate.prefPane.

The Problem
Your macbook or macbook pro knows the following sleep states:

sleep: machine will go to sleep only (saves state in RAM only, battery keeps RAM contents)

sleep & hibernate: machine sleeps and hibernates. (default)

hibernate only machine will go to hibernate only. (saves state on disk, battery will not be used)

Just sleep means that the notebook will go to sleep fast, but you loose the ability to change the battery as the battery is needed to keep the contents of the memory (RAM).
Just sleep and hibernate will wake the computer fast, but sleeping will take ages as the contents of the memory are saved to disk before entering the sleep.

The solution
SmartSleep let’s you select each select sleep state. Additionaly the new SmartSleep state lets your notebook just sleep while the battery has a high level. If the battery level drops below a certain point ( default is less then 20% or 20 minutes ) it will switch to sleep and hibernate. So you have the best of both worlds.

Open Source SAM/QFS

Posted in Commentary, Geekfest, Storage on March 18th, 2008 by juan

For those of you that have never heard of Sun’s (formerly LSI) SAM/QFS, this is a high performance filesystem that also has high performance HSM capabilities. I’ve installed this and used it in some very large sites. Amongst the many good things you can do: multiple reader/multiple writer clustered file system, dynamic inode creation, dynamic migration and staging (even in the middle of a file when you do a fseek), file size based volume selection (let’s you send large files to volumes optimized for large files and small files to volumes design for them all in the same filesystem).

Now if the SAM/QFS guys and the ZFS guys could merge this stuff together, oh-la-la!

Get your copy here:

SAM/QFS at OpenSolaris.org: