I recently came across the film 13 Most Beautiful . . . Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests on Netflix and was captivated by the simple beauty of what I consider to be living portraits (sort of like those moving pictures from the Harry Potter movies). From the distribution company:
Between 1964 and 1966, Andy Warhol shot nearly 500 Screen Tests, beautiful and revealing portraits of hundreds of different individuals, from the famous to the anonymous, all visitors to his studio, the Factory. Subjects were captured in stark relief by a strong keylight, and filmed by Warhol with his stationary 16mm Bolex camera on silent, black and white, 100-foot rolls of film. The resulting two-and-a-half-minute film reels were then screened in slow motion, resulting in a fascinating collection of four-minute masterpieces that startle and entrance, mesmerizing in the purest sense of the word. – Plexifilm
I recommend you check check it out, either on Netflix or through some of the Youtube excerpts from the film. Here are a couple so you can see what I mean:
Immediately, I starting thinking about how cool it would be to turn these films into a video wall display of 13 panels, with each one looping continually. The movements would be minimal enough not to force focus, but would provide a fascinating and moving piece of art. Since I don’t really have the ability to make such a piece right now (I have neither the equipment nor the rights), I started thinking about how I could create this as a screensaver or moving desktop for my computer. For my first test, I simply downloaded one of the Youtube versions and created a screensaver using Quartz Composer I can then, using Wallsaver turn that into a desktop that runs constantly in the background. Currently I don’t have it running because my computer, a 2007 Macbook Pro, chugs away a bit too hard when processing video and to have video running constantly would be a bit to much for it. My next step is to see if I can use Quartz Composter to take multiple videos and create a screensaver that is made up of multiple panels running concurrently. If that works, then I will buy the dvd and get better copies of each segment and then, whenever I get a new computer (probably either this fall or next fall if I can hold out for another year) I will at least run it as a screensaver if not experiment with it as my desktop background (realistically, even small amounts of movement are going to be distracting running it as a desktop would use resources that I probably don’t need to even if the computer can handle it with ease – still, the idea is cool even if I don’t end up using it as my background setting on a regular basis).
I recently composed a short story, “Garlic in the Air,” entirely on my iPhone while I was at work. Why the iPhone? Primarily because I was having some issues with my wrist and what might be some mild carpel tunnel issues and the iPhone didn’t aggravate those symptoms. Because I’m using Writeroom on my phone, my work is automatically backed up to the Simpletext servers, which I can then access on any computer with web access or on my home computer which has a Simpletext application that syncs a local folder with the server. I don’t think I’d write stories on the iPhone if I didn’t have that kind of syncing capability.
But what, I can hear you asking, is the process like writing on that little touch-screen keyboard? Not great. I certainly can’t type as fast as I can on a keyboard and it’s even slower than writing on paper. However, I’m not sure that is always a liability. Having to slow down a bit makes me consider my words more. It means that I am paying slightly more attention to the individual words and sounds than I might otherwise. I type moderately quickly, somewhere between 65 – 80 wpm depending on the computer and the ergonomics. Often, this speed means that I’m typing the first thoughts as they come into my head and stream through and are then gone replaced by the next thought and the next thought. Being forced to go slower means that each thought gets additional . . . well, thought before being committed to pixels. Also, I’m learning to ignore errors more on the iPhone and keep going because it’s much more tedious to fix misspellings on the iPhone than on a computer or even by hand. The truth is that when I misspell something I don’t have to fix it while I’m writing since it’s easy enough to fix later. Yet on a computer, I’ll break my train of thought to go back and fix any word in read I see. So, while on the one hand I’m slowing my thoughts down, I’m also training myself to keep moving forward instead of breaking out of the flow of the story to fix the mechanics of it.
Would I sit down and attempt to write a novel straight through on the iPhone? No. But because of Simpletext, I’m thinking of routinely writing first drafts of stories using either Textmate or Writeroom and saving them in my Simpletext folder so that I have them accessible wherever I go, whether that is on another computer or my iPhone. Scrivener remains my choice for longer projects, and as a place where I may very well import short stories after a draft or two, but keeping it simple with plain text files and a server that provides access wherever I go is making me rethink the tools and workflow I use for short works and early drafts.
I use Safari. I have Firefox downloaded and available for those times when something doesn’t work in Safari, but that’s become less and less necessary over the past year. However, I can’t stand the way that Safari opens new window after new window instead of defaulting to simply opening a new tab. That’s what the damn tabs are there for!
For a while I was using SafariStand to switch Safari’s behavior, but it was a hack, and would often be broken with a new update to Safari and almost inevitably broken with an operating system upgrade. So, the first thing I did when I installed Snow Leopard, well nearly the first thing, was to open up the Terminal and enter this:
Then hit the return key, close Terminal, and open up Safari to it’s new and well mannered behavior. There are other ways to activate this through programs like Cocktail, but if you want Safari to behave itself and stop opening window after window after window, all you need is that one command. If you decide you like Safari the stupid way, you simply open up Terminal again, enter the same command but replace the word “true” with the word “false” and you’ll be back to normal.
With Snow Leopard’s redesign of the dock menus, I found I prefer seeing the dock in the 2d version, even when keeping it on the bottom of my screen. Mostly because then the dock and the dock menus actually match. I know, I know, me and my aesthetic sensibilities. There’s no simple switch modes in OS X (though there should be, silly Apple) and again, if you have a program like Cocktail you can enable the dock in 2d mode. Once again, however, there is a simple Terminal command that will help us out:
hit the return key, then type “killall Dock” (all that is doing is shutting down the dock, which then automatically opens again with the change applied) and return. Once again, if you want to go back to the 3d Dock, simply replace the “YES” with “N0.”
This is basic stuff for some, but I know a lot of Mac users who have never opened up the Terminal. While you always want to be very careful when you do use the Terminal, especially if you aren’t an actual Unix program and don’t really know what you are doing, finding a few of these kinds of commands can make your working environment a bit more suited to how you want to work and not necessarily how Steve Jobs thinks you want to work.
A good source for finding tips like these and other tricks and customizations for the Mac is at MacOSXHints, which is where I got both of these Terminal commands.
John Gruber once more provides the voice of reason. I actually didn’t think this was that big a deal, but wanted to get the info to any of you who are not as geeky about following this kind of news. I was also lazy and just reposted TUAW’s article in full . . . not something I often do and not something I plan on doing again since I defeats my general effort to use this space in a more thoughtful manner and with greater attention to developing ideas and thoughts instead of posting stuff to simply post stuff.
The gist of the article is simple, if you install Snow Leopard, you should update your Adobe Flash. That is all.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just another reminder, before you upgrade any operating system make a backup of your computer.
My current screenshot. The desktop image is called “Aurora 2” and I’m sorry to say I can’t remember where I got it from. I’m running three Geektool scripts: an iTune’s script, a PandoroBoy script, (both of which occupy the same spot on the screen and simply don’t show up when they are not playing) and a script that I sorta-kinda created for Things that shows my to-do list. The “sorta-kinda” is because it is largely based on one of the other scripts on the Things Wiki and I did a lot of editing and tweaking but didn’t create the script from the ground up. The only other script I’d like to put together is one that will show iCal events, but since most of my days are pretty much the same, it isn’t a priority. Once I get back into a Ph.D. program and have a busier schedule, I’ll probably add that on.
As you can tell, I’m not a fan of a cluttered computer desktop, but I do find that having my tasks list embedded on the desktop to be helpful in forcing me to keep in in mind. If my task list is relegated to a program, even if that program is easily called up, I have a tendency to put those out of sight items out of mind.
The other thing I’ve discovered is that the more abstract my desktop image, the less apt I am to want to change it. Used to be that I’d be changing backgrounds weekly, going on DeviantArt regularly to hunt for new and interesting backgrounds. I even when through a period of creating collage backgrounds based on Gillian Anderson photos — though that was a long, long, time ago, so I don’t want to hear any snide comments about how nerdy that is. Recently, however, I’ve been sticking with more and more abstract images that play with color or shapes but don’t represent anything specific and find that I don’t have the urge to spend way too much time looking for those new and interesting images. I will still occasionally check out DeviantArt, but usually one every several months instead of every week or two.
I’m not sure what point I’m trying to make, or even if I have a point to this entry, but I spend a lot of time on my computer and thinking about how to eliminate distractions from my workspace. Keeping my computer desktop simple, colorful, and useful seems to help eliminate at least a few distractions from my digital world.
I am a product of my culture and a bit of a computer geek and, as such, have an affinity for getting the newest, most up-to-date x (where x = “pretty much damn near anything tech/computer related). Of course, I have never had the income to really pursue that affinity to the lengths that I might want. However, even if I can’t afford to get the newest, coolest x, not having it produces a vague sense of dissatisfaction1 . Ironically, I find that by switching to a Mac as my computer and buying an iPhone I am able to excise some of that dissatisfaction and be content with my current set of tools.
Investing in Quality
My Macbook Pro is the most expensive computer I’ve ever purchased and it’s almost 20 months old–which is like 5 of our people years. Since then, the line has had a minor refresh and a major overhaul with the new (pretty!) unibody construction. Until I switched to a Mac, I was always buying low- to mid-end computers that meant I wanted to upgrade every 6 to 12 months. I wasn’t actually making a serious investment in my computer equipment, so I was seeing each computer as temporary, merely a brief stop on my way to the next, better computer. Not so much these days. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I think the new Macbook Pros are gorgeous, and if someone were to give me one, I’d surely take it, but I honestly don’t feel like I just have to have the newest and latest model because my computer remains an excellent tool that is more than sufficient to my needs. This is partly because of the quality of Apple products and partly because I consciously invested in getting a computer that would last 4 or 5 people years.
Updates? We don’t need no stinkin’ updates.
I have a jailbroken iPhone. Primarily for two reasons and secondarily for one reason. Mainly I keep my iPhone jailbroken for 1) Video capability–even though I haven’t had a use for this, I like knowing that I could capture video if necessary and 2) tethering, which can come in handy if there’s no other source of internet access. Additionally, I like being able to individualize the look of my iPhone and have a theme that I think is actually nicer than Apple’s (though many of the themes are not). One of the ramifications of keeping my phone jailbroken is that I need to be careful when updating the phone and this is forcing me to reconsider my knee-jerk reaction to hearing about updates to any of my technology which has generally been, OMG I need to update NOW!
Patience, they say, is a virtue, and my (jailbroken) iPhone is helping me learn a bit more patience than I have previously maintained . . . at least in this one area of my life (but maybe it’ll bleed over into other areas).
Using a well made tool will make any task more enjoyable than using an ill made tool, and Apple products, beyond their sleek design and sexy looks, are well made tools that are helping me focus a bit more on how and why I use technology instead of just wanting to play with the newest, coolest, most cutting edge x out there.