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Showing posts from 2007

In the land of grey and pink

I’m pretty happy with my current-model MacBook Pro 15”. I got the Santa Rosa based 2.2 GHz model via a very good education price deal (I work in a university), and it’s a great all round machine. Because I take lots of photographs, I have calibrated the MacBook Pro’s display as well as my 23” Cinema Display so that I get true colors when preparing photos for web or print. I used the Spyder2 Express from datacolor, which is a great little gadget. The idea is very simple: you use the supplied colorimeter to look at your monitor while an application displays swatches of known colors. The colorimeter reports the actual color appearing on the monitor, and the controlling application creates a table that records the difference between the RGB values in the swatches and the ones recorded by the colorimeter. This is known as a device color profile and the Mac can use its generic factory-shipped ones, or the more accurate ones you create for your own displays with the Spyder2 or similar device…

Another Numbers feature

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Frequent spreadsheeters are used to constructing formulae by pointing with the arrow keys. It's part of the spreadsheet conditioned reflex set to whack equals, arrow left, hit star, point left left, whack enter, to construct a typical "cost times quantity" cell formula. This has been braided into the finger muscles and the spinal cord of spreadsheet workers since VisiCalc, through Lotus, SuperCalc, Multiplan and Excel. Numbers retains the equals operator to introduce a formula (much more intuitive than Lotus's plus sign and less confusing than SuperCalc's complete lack of formula signifier) but forces you to mouse around the relevant cells to assemble your formula. It's a bit of a drag, honestly. I hope this becomes something the end user can change.
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Excel ↔ Numbers roundtripping

I’ve just checked a couple of things about round-tripping spreadsheet documents between Excel and Numbers. Firstly, Numbers adds a ‘cover sheet’ showing the Numbers table name and which exported Excel worksheet it relates to (see figure). This isn’t a showstopper but it could confuse people with whom you’re exchanging documents. Update: Another blogger user has discovered the preference to turn this behavior off.
Secondly, Excel VBA macros are not preserved by a round trip from Excel into Numbers and back to Excel again. The entire VBA OLE stream within the file is just removed in any Excel file exported from Numbers. This is something to be aware of when collaborating with Office users who make any use of Excel macros.That prompts the question “how can you have a serious spreadsheet that doesn’t have a macro language?” but honestly, I’m very far from convinced we really need one. I’ve seen countless examples of Excel sheets with macros that could be very easily replaced by a couple o…

Big Fat Liar.

Maybe you've seen the latest in the Apple TV ads featuring John Hodgman and Justin Long (“Hello, I’m a Mac” “And I’m a PC”). Normally these are pertinent and witty, but the latest one isn’t up to the standard required when you’re trying to occupy the moral high ground. Hodgman (PC) lumbers on stage looking like Richard Griffiths in a brown suit, bloated and burdened by the weight of “useless” trial software, and says it “…really slows me down”. This perpetuates a meme you’ll hear repeated everywhere, even by IT support people who really should know better: that too much ‘stuff’ on your hard disk makes your machine run slower. There’s no real relation between how full your hard disk is and the speed of your computer. Software that’s installed just lies around on disk until you run it. When it’s not running, it can’t affect your system speed, whether that system runs Mac OS X, Windows or Linux.

The only things that might slow down your system without your wanting them to are pre-ins…

Hide your windows and save

I was recently talking with a friend who is thinking of replacing his beloved but aging eMac 700 with something modern, and was trying to help him work out what the smart buy for his usage would be. His current complaint was that he gets the spinning beachball in Safari an awful lot and the entire system seemed sluggish when he had several browser windows open. I got him to run Activity Monitor to examine whether Safari’s cache problems were contributing to the slowness. One of the things he mentioned that startled me was that iTunes on his machine was taking a steady 25% of the CPU time.

I was surprised because on my daily machine, I’ve never seen its usage vary much from around 10-11%. Then I compared my machine’s CPU (a 1.67 GHz G4) with his (a 700 MHz G4) and realized that the amount of work being done by both machines was similar, and because his CPU was about half as fast as mine, it was having to do twice as much work as mine in the same time to play back the MP3 file. iTunes do…

'iTunes forensics' detects plagiarism

A Gramophone critic was surprised when his copy of iTunes identified CDs by the late pianist Joyce Hatto as being by other modern pianists. Each disc of hers he fed his computer was identified as the same works but recorded by a different artist. Sonograms of the Hatto recordings and the differently-identified versions were compared and found to be identical. Gramophone broke the news, prompting a confession by Hatto's widower, William Barrington-Coupe, who had issued the ostensible recordings of his late wife.

According to Barrington-Coupe, he only used parts of the other artists' recordings to smooth over bad takes. However, iTunes, or rather the Gracenote service iTunes uses, identifies CDs by a complex hash of attributes including the ID String embedded by the presser, as well as track numbers and durations. For obvious bandwidth reasons, it doesn't sample the actual sound on the recordings so there's no way it could have 'heard' and identified a different p…

Getting It Done?

As someone who has worked at many jobs in which it is part of the job description to be interrupted incessantly, whilst at the same time having, as part of the same job, work that needs careful planning, reflection and sustained concentration to execute correctly, I've had many problems with the usual time-management approaches. Most of them seem to have been conceived in some middle-management Utopia back in the '50s, a place where everyone has an office with a door, the closure of which was sacrosanct; a time before email, pagers, cellphones and Blackberries; a society where "getting up in someone's face" was a social crime rather than a standard business strategy.

That said, you can't let your life be run by random events and dropping everything to work on whatever the customer who shouts the loudest wants. You need some sort of system, and I've found the system popularized by David Allen, which he calls by the arcane, obscure name of Getting Things Don…

The Tufte Club

It might be a bit of an exaggeration to say that Edward Tufte is solely responsible for making people think harder about how they present information, but it's clear his influence is spreading. I'm just reading the new-to-me What Color Is Your Parachute? and its use of color, diagrams, ironic Victorian engravings and tables to break up the text is attractive and effective. Well done.

iDisk access from Windows

Many Mac users subscribe to Apple’s .Mac service which provides email, Web hosting and a shared files service. .Mac has had a lot of stick over the last few years, most of it deserved; it’s not cheap (about $100 a year), the mail had a whole week of being unreliable last year, and the performance of its iDisk file storage and sharing service is capable of being painfully slow, so slow it’s sometimes unusable. You use iDisk through the Finder, which, in the background initiates a WebDAV connection to Apple’s servers. When the .Mac weather’s bad, this connection can be too slow or lossy, leading to spinning beach-balls and a halting, stuttering Finder. The way I cope with this is to use Transmit which can us WebDAV as well as FTP to connect to remote file systems. Transmit is blindingly fast at everything it does and slices through the bad weather in a way that the Finder doesn’t seem to be able to manage.You can do various useful things with the 1GB storage available on iDisk, such a…