Snow Leopard Tips & Tricks from Around the Interwebs

Here are some useful links for those who are either thinking of upgrading or have already upgraded:

Macworld has a useful video about some of the new refinements
A new website devoted to Snow Leopard Tips
Macbreak Video’s demonstration of the new Services functionality
Mac Life lists some of the new features, including the fact that iChat uses less bandwidth to deliver the same or better video then Leopard.

UPDATE:
Mac Life now has a list of 100 tips posted. I hadn’t realized until last night that scanner support has been amped up in Snow Leopard.

Writing Update for August 30

InkQuill

So today marks my second week of a new writing challenge. This go around is 300 Words for 30 days and I have to admit that the past week I’ve had to really force myself to sit down and write and have ended up not working very much on The Devious Astrolabe. The good new is that I’m almost finished with a fairly short, short-story, although I’ve also spent several days just writing something that I have no idea where it’s going or even if it’s going anywhere. In general, I’ve felt a bit unfocused and will try to take some time tomorrow to actually go through and organize some of The Devious Astrolabe material to see if I can get back to work on that in a somewhat coherent fashion.

That said, however, my stats are pretty good:

Week One: 3254 words written, with an average of 465 words per day.
Week Two: 2996 words written, with an average of 428 words per day.

Just to put things in perspective, however, the folks who actually succeed at NaNoWriMo have to write roughly 2000 words every day for 30 days and I’m nowhere near that level of output. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to interrupt my slowly building set of challenges to attempt NaNoWriMo this year, but I’m leaning against it primarily because these personal challenges seem to be working for me. So I will probably stay my own personal course and do 400 for 40 Days, followed by 500 for 50 days.

How’s your writing going?

Some Thoughts on Snow Leopard

Yes, I’m just the kind of person who went out yesterday and bought Apple’s new operating system Snow Leopard and have spent the majority of last night and today playing around with the new features and setting my computer back up (since I decided to do a totally clean install and reformatted my hard drive before installing—of course, that was after making a series of backups). You certainly don’t have to go through the effort that I did and if you are upgrading, you should be just fine upgrading on top of your current system and thereby keeping all your files and settings. I just felt that it was time I did some cleaning up of files and applications and starting from scratch is sometimes the best way to do that. Here is my current desktop:

Screen shot 2009-08-29 at 1.17.18 PM.jpg

There are a lot more qualified people that can talk about the real advantages of Snow Leopard, but I wanted to share a couple of things I’ve seen and discovered about the operating system.

Dock and Exposé

Not only do Stacks have a greater range of functionality, allowing you to drill down into folders from the grid view, but now the list view matches the display style of the grid view, as does the display you get when you right click a program on the dock for the options available:

Screen shot 2009-08-29 at 4.00.10 PM.jpg

As nice as those touches are, and they are very nice from an aesthetic point of view, the Exposé functionality for individual application windows when you click and hold an icon in the dock is way more cool. Here’s what I mean:

Also, when you active Exposé the old fashioned way, to show all your open windows, the windows are arranged in a much better fashion rather than the previously sloppy fashion:

Screen shot 2009-08-29 at 10.22.09 PM.jpg

Quicktime

Quicktime now allows you to do basic screencasts, as you just saw in the above example. It certainly won’t replace more advanced screencast applications because there is no editing functions other than a basic trim function. But for something quick and basic, if you wanted to show someone how to access a function or perform a task, Quicktime could easily become a useful tool, especially since you can export to YouTube, MobileMe, or iTunes right from the program. Quicktime isn’t just for screencasts, either, it will allow you to record both audio and video using your computer’s camera and microphone as well.

Services

The coolness of the new Services is probably a bit on the geeky side, but even if you aren’t a computer wiz, there are lots of ways they could be useful. For a really great introduction, you should go over and watch this video produced by PixelCorps which will give you a nice sense of what you can do with the new Services architecture.

One of the neat things you can set up are specific websites as services that you can then invoke with a keystroke. For example, here’s a screenshot of a Facebook HUD (heads up display) that allows basic interaction with Facebook without having to open up a full web browser.

Screen shot 2009-08-29 at 1.20.06 PM.jpg

You can do the same thing with Twitter and with web-based email services. Sure, full blown applications will offer more versatility than what are basically mobile versions of these websites (although you can use Safari as a setting when creating these Web Pop-up automations/services), but as quick and easy ways to interact with specific websites with a simple keystroke combination, the new interaction between Services and Automator is really exciting if you have any kind of regular task that you’d like to automate and reduce to one or two keystrokes.

Other Miscellaneous Thoughts

The Keyboard Preferences Pane sets out the keyboard shortcuts in a much more organized and easy to view manner. Did you know that ^F3 will shift focus to the Dock and you can use the arrow keys to move between Dock items?

It’s about time you could easily add the date to your menu bar next to the time. Sometimes, as much as an Apple fan as I’ve become since switching, I can’t help but wonder why it took so long for them to fix some of these little things. Now, if only they would change the look of Spotlight so that it matched the rest of the look and feel of OS X.

There are lots of features I haven’t played around with yet and we won’t see some of the benefits to the new technologies under the hood like OpenCL and Grand Central Dispatch until programs begin to take advantage of them. Casual users might want to wait for a few months in order for an update or two to deal with the inevitable few issues that arise with any new operating system, but given the price, the aesthetics, the new usefulness of Services, and the upcoming programs that will take advantage of some very cool aspects of the operating system, I certainly think most people should upgrade by the end of the year if not sooner.

Just remember, even if you are doing an install on top of your current installation, always make a backup, preferably a full clone, of your system before installing a new operating system.

UPDATE
I’m noticing some issues cropping up around my Airport Extreme, with occasional disconnects, particularly with respect to the hard drive I have attached to the router that acts as a networked drive for my music and media.

I’ve also noticed some odd behavior in the Finder while working with files on those networked drives. Several times when deleting files, the finder has switched views from column or list into icon view when I’ve moved a file to the trash.

Neither of these are proving major issues (so far) and I’m hopeful that they will be addressed in the next update.

UPDATE
Just another reminder, before you upgrade any operating system make a backup of your computer.

Stranded on an Island, Do You Choose an iPod or an Ebook Reader?

Those who know me are aware of just how important music and stories are to me. If I were to be stranded on an island and could only have either a 160gb iPod filled with music, or an ebook reader filled with stories, I would be hard pressed to choose between the two.1 If I weren’t able to listen to music, I would feel utterly bereft. However, if I weren’t able to read and experience stories on daily basis, I would lose more than enjoyment, more than pleasure, and more than joy. I would lose my ability to understand both myself and the world around me.

Stories, good stories, are the map to myself and to the strange and dimly lit territories of the human experience. Stories are how I am able to model myself to myself. Stories allow me to peer into the cracks and crevices of desire and hope, to imagine I’m more courageous than I am, and, by imagining, perhaps become more courageous. Stories, good stories, are not simply a mirror held up to nature, but rather a set of coordinates that include any nature we can ever imagine. Stories allow us to situate ourselves in other worlds and other selves that range from remarkably similar to dreadfully alien. In the process we are taken across the limn of ourselves and left beyond the walls that keep us safe and secure. When we make the return from out there to home, we are changed.

What I want from a story, regardless of the medium, is the opportunity to leave myself and then come back to myself with new ideas, new possibilities, and a greater understanding of this whole experiment of nature we call being human.

When I find such a story, I want to share it.

Which brings me to a webcomic called The Abominable Charles Christopher which is, as improbable as it sounds, a beautiful, heart-wrenching story about courage, friendship, courtship, theatre, learning to fly, the difficulties of domestic life, danger, death, love, and life. Alternately funny and horrific, Karl Kerschl’s story is beautifully drawn and will take you into a forest of talking animals and a silent protagonist. In many ways, like all good stories, describing the story is like trying to reconstruct a log from a fire’s ashes. You have to experience the story for yourself to understand.

I hope you will take the time to start at the beginning and read through until the current strip. I don’t think you will regret entering Kerschl’s world and I know that you will return from this forest changed, even if only in the slightest of ways.

  1. I’ll make sure to have a solar recharger with me when I wash ashore. []

A New Poem

The Children of Thayer Street

Bright confused
and
with brash energy;
eyes of fire and terror.

Young. Younger every year.

A rustle in your heart,
a whisper of lost
                           lostness.
These children of your middle years
as they smile wide and smoke and wear
self-involvement like a superhero cape
slashing red and blue
in the sunrise of their grown up pose.

You hate them just a little
and love them in a way they will never understand
until they are middle-yeared and looking
back
at the young. Younger every year.

As the semester begins, they swell your heart,
taking Thayer Street as their own.

The Fatalism of Never Changing Minds

Recently, while I was at work, I overheard a co-worker’s conversation on the phone about how he never talks politics with friends or acquaintances because “you can never change anybody’s mind about stuff like that.” My first instinct was to agree with him, while my second was the realization that to accept this statement as a prima facia fact about political discourse is nothing short of a deeply pessimistic fatalism.

Granted, there are a lot of issues over which people will dig themselves down into a trench and refuse to budge, but if we begin with the assumption that communication, facts, or a deeper understanding of the world are entirely useless when it comes to human discourse, then we have, in a sense, given up before we’ve even begun. This isn’t to say that getting into heated debates with people who disagree with your beliefs should be pursued at the dinner party or the office lunch. Of course they shouldn’t. There are appropriate times and appropriate places for intelligent conversations about our world. But I have to believe that changing someone’s mind is never impossible. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. Or at least not if the dialogue is conducted in good faith and both parties are willing to really and truly listen to the other’s facts, arguments, and ideas.

And therein lies the difficulty, because most people (too often myself included) are not willing to truly listen to ideas that are divergent from their own perceptions of the world. Of course, compounding this problem is the fact that many people don’t argue their beliefs in good faith or with a desire to enable communication and change. Yelling that Obama is a Kenyan born Nazi is not arguing in good faith (primarily due to the fact that there are, well, no facts to be found in their arguments).

I would like to believe that if faced with a compelling argument, backed by logic and factual evidence, I am willing to change my mind about issues and ideas and politics. Yes, I have my own emotional biases about how the world works, about what is fair and what is important. Yes, I am ideologically slanted toward a politics of fairness and equality and believe that government should play an active role in leveling the playing field for all its citizens. So I tend to vote Democrat and self-identify as progressive. If you come at me from a conservative viewpoint, I will naturally become wary and defensive and believe that I know better than you. Which, is most likely the same emotional state you will be in at the time.

However, if we can talk about facts and use reason in our discourse and if you extend respect to my viewpoint, I will do the same—or at least try, since we are none of us perfect. We can have productive conversations about differing political views only if we start from a position of respect and a willingness to listen. Sure, that doesn’t happen all that much these days, and sure, many in the media love the fact that our political discourse has become an ongoing episode of the Jerry Springer show, but it’s not impossible.

Because if it really were impossible to change our minds, to allow compelling arguments and new understands to change our view of the world, then we could never learn and change and grow.

The flip side to the notion of changeability, is that if someone is not willing to argue in good faith, or truly listen to you, or bother to respect your viewpoint, then don’t waste your time arguing with them because those are indeed the people whose minds you will never change.

The question we all have to ask ourselves each time we engage in a dialogue about firmly held beliefs is this: can I truly respect this person and can I truly listen to their argument. If the answer is no, that doesn’t make you a bad person. I have no respect for a Birther or a Flat-Earther and so getting into a dialogue with someone who holds those beliefs would be, at best, futile and frustrating for both sides. Being on opposite sides of a political issue is not what makes us enemies of one another. Rather, it is our actions and behaviors toward one another that will lead us to either civil disagreements (what we should all strive for) or outright war against each other (what Fox News and other “conservative” mouthpieces are promulgating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week).

And one does have to wonder why so many people seem so invested in making the citizens of the United States of America into enemies of each other . . .

(Cross posted at Daily Kos)

250 Words for 25 Days Writing Challenge – Conclusion

InkQuill

Thursday was my 25th consecutive day of writing at least 250 words. This last week was actually the hardest, in part because I wasn’t able to go home and stay home after work on any day other than Thursday. Luckily, 250 words is not all that much, so I was able to keep on track, even when I got home late. What this week did demonstrate to me was that as I increase the number of words in these writing challenges, I will need to be very careful during the week about how much time I spend out at night or, if I know I’ll be out late, I need to make sure I get up early enough to do some writing in the morning before going to work.

This past week, I wrote 1326 words, with an average of 331 per day. My total challenge numbers are 9215 words written with an average of 364 words per day. My next challenge, which begins on August 17, will be 300 Words for 30 Days. Considering that almost every day I wrote more than 300 words, I don’t think this will pose any problems. Because the week of the 17th will include some travel and visiting friends and family out of state, I’m going to have to be extra diligent that I get the writing done on those days. I may not bring my computer with me on that trip, so I will have to change my writing habit a bit for those days as well – writing by hand or possibly even on my iPhone (which, incidentally, I actually did once during this challenge, writing about 320 words on the iPhone using the WriteRoom app).

I do think it’s important to have some sort of visual record of your writing if you are doing a challenge like this. I’ve written previously about using some form of a “chain” calendar to track yourself. There are a bunch of apps that mimic making a red “X” on each calendar day, but I chose to stay with a simple spreadsheet and filling in each day with a color:

Writing Record

This gives me the ability to have both a visual record of my success, as well as having the daily statistics and word counts as an additional motivating factor.

More important than the numbers of words, however, is the accomplishment that I feel after having set myself a specific, manageable challenge and having met that challenge, even on days when I didn’t want to.

So there you have it, my 250 Words for 25 Days Challenge has been successfully met. If you end up trying this, please drop me a comment to let me know about your experience and any tricks or ideas that you come up with.