Mac Switching update, Tue 20 Sep

Well, that’s my Thunderbird email now moved from the PC to the Mac. Just as with iTunes, this turned out to be quite simple:

  1. Installed Thunderbird on the Mac
  2. Located my profile directory on the Mac: /Users/martin/Library/Thunderbird/Profiles/XXXXX.default/, where “XXXXX” stands for whatever random combination of letters and numbers it has chosen for me.
  3. Made a backup copy of everything in this directory.
  4. Located my profile directory on the PC: C:\Documents And Settings\Martin\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\YYYYY.default\, where “YYYYY” is a different random combination of letters and numbers.
  5. Copied all files and directories from the PC’s profile directory into the Mac’s profile directory.
  6. Started up Thunderbird on the Mac…and everything works, multiple accounts, saved passwords and all.

I had considered using the Mac’s own for email, but I think I’ll leave that for later.

On the text editor front, I’ve installed SubEthaEdit, and I plan to give TextWrangler a try, too.

Web browser-wise, I’m still flipping between Firefox and Safari, but with Opera now being free, I’ll probably throw it into the mix as well, and see what sticks.

Next major task is to get Apache and MySQL up and running, and install a local copy of Movable Type. It’s all looking rather good, right now.

Mac Switching update, Mon 19 Sep

  • As Dave has been suggesting, under System Preferences -> Keyboard & Mouse -> Keyboard shortcuts, there is a setting that allows pressing the Tab key to move between all types of field, rather than just text boxes and lists. I had thought that this wasn’t working, when in fact it was only not working in Firefox. On the Mac, Firefox has its own tab settings, which you can change by going to the about:config page, and changing “accessibility.tabfocus” from 1 to 7. (See also: “Mac OS X Hints” on Macworld.) It now all works perfectly.
  • Thanks for Phil Gyford, I now have my keyboard mapped correctly: i.e., hitting Shift+2 gives me a double-quote, and the @-sign sits two keys to the right of my L. As James had indicated, it’s a matter of installing a custom keyboard layout. You can use Ukelele to create these, but Phil Gyford has a British-Windows keyboard layout available for download from his site–complete with instructions. Marvellous.

Two minor (yet major) niggles knocked on the head in a single evening. Good progress. But the big ticket item of the evening was moving my iTunes music library from my PC to the Mac. I’d expected this to be weird, but it turned out to be ridiculously easy:

  1. On the PC, I had all of my music in a single directory (with subdirectories), but this sat on a separate disk (E:\Music) rather than in the default iTunes music folder (My Documents\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music). Using an external HD rather than a slow (wireless) network transfer, I copied everything from D:\Music into the default location on the Mac, i.e. /Users/martin/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music.
  2. On the Mac, I made a backup of the two key iTunes library files: “iTunes Music Library.xml” and “iTunes Library”, just in case it all went horribly wrong. (These are both in the /Users/martin/Music/iTunes/ folder.)
  3. I copied the PC versions of these files over the the Mac. (The PC versions reside in My Documents\Music\iTunes\)
  4. I renamed the “iTunes Library.itl” file to just “iTunes Library”, without the file extension. (Although I’m not sure if this is critical, because looking at the file name in Terminal, the extension is back there…the Finder just isn’t displaying it.)
  5. Started iTunes. iTunes spent a couple of minutes with a progress bar updating its music library, and at the end of that process…everything was there. All my ratings and play counts were present. I clicked on music and it played.
  6. With iTunes, I de-authorized the PC, and authorized the Mac, and all the protected downloads from the iTMS opened up, too.


Based on my experience restoring my iTunes music library from a dead PC, I should have figured that the process of migrating from PC to Mac would be similarly easy, but my gut just wasn’t entirely convinced. I love it when software works like this: you plug stuff in, copy the files, and you’re done. No complicated setup routines, no magic registry settings to hack if you want to restore your stuff after a disk failure…it just works. That rocks.

Also, after setting up iTunes, I plugged in my iPod. iTunes recognized it immediately, and started synchronizing. I don’t know why it decided to re-copy 849 files that should have been on the iPod already, but I can’t say that really bothers me, because IT’S CHARGING AT THE SAME TIME AS IT’S SYNCHRONIZING! WOOHOO! Honest, whatever flaw that was stopping my iPod from charging over USB has been bugging the hell out of me since I got it, and now it’s gone. Yay! No more stepping on the bus in the morning and finding that I’ve only got an hour of battery power left, because I forgot to change plugs after grabbing a new batch of podcasts.

Oh, and one more little, but lovely thing for the day:

  • Partially transparent Terminal windows. Rock.

Up next: moving Thunderbird email from PC to the Mac.

Mac Switching update, Sun 18 Sep

I returned the Apple Pro keyboard yesterday, and came away with a new Microsoft Digital Media Pro keyboard instead. Now, the MDMP is very much NOT my first choice of keyboard. It has extraneous buttons up the wazoo, and it has a hateful little “zoom” slider on the left hand side, which eats into the space available for actual keys. The keys are just a fraction too small, and the click action is more of a spongy “zonk”.

What I want is a bog-standard, commodity 105-key keyboard, with the Insert/Delete/Home keys arranged HORIZONTALLY (rather than in a space-saving vertical configuration), as few extraneous “media” buttons as possible, and a USB connection. Can I have one? Fuck no. I can have all of the above with a PS/2 connection, or with a bluetooth wireless configuration, but not with USB. PS/2 is useless because I want to use it with the entirely PS/2-free Mac Mini, and bluetooth is useless because WHY WOULD I WANT TO SPEND TWICE AS MUCH ON A KEYBOARD JUST SO I CAN CHANGE ITS BATTERIES ONCE A MONTH? I’m baffled by the proliferation of wireless keyboards and mice. What the fuck are you going to do with that 10m range? You’ll need a pair of binoculars to read the text you’re typing.

What I would really like is my old MS Internet keyboard, only with a USB connection. No can do. PS/2 only, and unfortunately it doesn’t work with the PS/2-to-USB adapter I bought. So I’m stuck with this butt-ugly, oversized monstrosity instead. If anyone has any recommendations for alternatives, lay them on me. Please.

The keyboard’s saving grace is that it made me install Microsoft’s Intellitype and Intellipoint keyboard/mouse driver software in order to make it work with the Mac. And the Intellipoint mouse software includes an option to override the Mac’s default mouse tracking behaviour for my MS Intellimouse, which was one of the problem points I wrote about on Friday. Mouse tracking now behaves in the same way as it does on my Windows box, and it’s lovely. I found it hard to believe just how much irritation this relieved in a single stroke.

Thanks to a comment from Dave, I found the area in System Preferences to allow me to tab to controls other than just text boxes and lists, but it doesn’t seem to work. Hmm.

Some miscellaneous further notes:

  • The Pogue book arrived, and I’ve worked through the first chapter. Looks like a winner.
  • I’ve got to the point where I’ve moved the Dock from the default bottom of the screen to the left, and have set it to automatically hide. That way, it fits in roughly the same conceptual slot as the Start menu on Windows.
  • I love the Column layout in Finder.
  • I hate only being able to resize windows with the gripper in their bottom left-hand corners.
  • I’m starting to get used to the idea of just “throwing” the mouse up to the top of the screen to hit a menu, rather than pick it out carefully. Fitts’ Law rocks.
  • James pointed me in the direction of Library/Keyboard Layouts to allow me to remap keys. I’m going to need this, because Apple has the ” and the @ keys reversed from what I’m used to, and from what my keyboard actually tells me. Very annoying. (What alternate keyboard layouts are going to do to my typing when we move to the Netherlands, I dread to think.)
  • I’ve started importing photos into iPhoto. Very nice. The only thing I’m a bit concerned about is the disk space consumed by keeping a copy of both the original and the manipulated version of you rotate or otherwise twiddle with a picture. 80GB is not a lot of space. If the Mac sticks, a hard disk upgrade may be on the cards some time next year.
  • I haven’t tried moving my iTunes library from the PC to Mac yet…that’ll the later this week.
  • Also on the to-do list: get a local install of MySQL and Movable Type up and running.

I still haven’t fallen in love with OS X. In fact, I’m finding myself disproportionately annoyed with all the little things that don’t work the way I want them to, which is causing me to miss out on the joy of the bigger features. I had a really bad week last week, and the grumpiness is still upon me.

Breathe in, breath out.

Mac Switching update, Fri 16 Sep

  • Dell sent out a courier with a replacement monitor for my faulty 2005FPW today. Not happy. The replacement is a refurbished monitor rather than a new one. It’s a 1st revision model (rather than the 2rd revision one I had), and as such suffers from a very annoying backlight bleeding. It has one stuck pixel right in the middle of the screen, and one dead pixel close by. (The previous monitor had one stuck subpixel, but it was right at the edge of the screen.) The new monitor also has a bash at the top. Not happy at all. This one is going straight back again on Monday.
  • I’ve ordered the David Pogue Mac OSX book, which will hopefully enlighten me about the hidden corners of Macdom.
  • I’m still not liking the Apple Pro keyboard. I’m a hard typist, striking the keys with a lot of noisy force, and I’m finding that I’m getting a lot of duplicated keystrokes. Or do you think this might be a fault in the keyboard?
  • I’m having a hard time getting used to the altered control/alt key modifiers. Copy and Paste is the worst one: I’m so used to hittting the Ctrl key with my left pinkie, and then picking up C or V with my left forefinger. The Mac keystrokes are [Apple]+C, and [Apple]+V, and the [Apple] key rests under my thumb. Getting my pinkie over there feels unnatural, and using my thumb instead feels unnatural. The whole thing is freaking me out a bit. I suppose I just need to give it more time.
  • Mouse tracking is also causing me some problems. For small mouse movements, the mouse cursor doesn’t accelerate as quickly as it does in Windows. For large mouse movements, no problem. But when moving in small increments, trying to hit smaller targets (like menu options, or &*%$ checkboxes–see below) feels “sticky”. It’s like my mouse has picked up some dirt, and isn’t moving properly.
  • I’m really hating not being able to tab to drop-down lists, checkboxes, or controls other than textboxes. There must be a way that I haven’t found yet. I’m hoping that the Pogue book will hold some clues.

On the positive front, iPhoto is rather nice. And Quicksilver looks like it will add some keyboard lovin’ to the whole system.

More updates soon.

Hot tools and broken laptops

I’m no stranger to fixing computers, but usually I stick to the simple stuff, like swapping hard disks, motherboards, video cards and other fairly high-level components. This evening was the first time I’ve had to use a soldering iron to solve a problem.

My brother’s laptop, a Dell Inspiron 5150, died earlier this week. It just stopped powering up. Occasionally it would come on for a few seconds, and then shut off again. No boot screen, no diagnostics. At first I thought it might have been a power supply problem–perhaps a dodgy connector, but swapping the power supplies didn’t do anything. It turns out to be a much more subtle problem than that.

Some searching around the web showed that this immediate shut-down is a common problem on the 5150s. At the bottom of the 5150’s case is a screw-down flap that gives access to the mini PCI slot (which usually contains the Wi-Fi adapter). One of the tabs on this flap is just a teensy bit too long, so that it pushes up against a chip on the motherboard. If you put any pressure on the laptop, like leaning too hard on the keyboard, or squishing it in a travel bag, then the tab may push hard enough on the chip to leave a small dent, or even to fracture its connections to the motherboard. If you happen to have a 5150 that hasn’t developed this problem yet, the recommendation is to take a sharp knife to the tab in question, and cut it down, so that it doesn’t break the chip in the first place.

But if it’s too late for that, there is a thread here at that explains the problem–and also how to fix it yourself. By stripping the laptop down to the motherboard, you can use a fine-tipped soldering iron to repair the fractured connections. I followed the instructions, and…it works. The laptop powers on and boots up again as normal.

I was amazed. I’d seen the replies in that thread from people who had tried this and had it work, but the thought of lifting a soldering iron put the fear into me. (The last time I soldered anything was in my 2nd year Electronics class, some 15 years ago, and that was one of the reasons I turned to theoretical physics instead: no lab work.) Fortunately the repair turned out to be a lot easier that I’d feared. Stripping the laptop down and putting it back together again was actually the hardest bit.

Dell had quoted my brother £350 to replace the laptop’s motherboard. The soldering iron cost £6. Yowza.

Clearing the decks

If you happen to have been paying attention to my “quick reviews” sidebar, you will have noticed that I’ve been running with a severe backlog of material for some time now. At the moment I have 25 books and films unreviewed, many of which are from the very start of the year. I keep meaning to do them, but…I’ve finally admitted to myself that I probably won’t. I’m reading new books and watching new films all the time, but I constantly feel dragged down by the weight of those outstanding items.

(When I started doing the quick reviews, the idea was that I’d write a sentence or two about my general impression of the item, and give it a star rating, primarily so that I could keep a record of what I’d read and watched. But gradually the sentence or two stretched into a paragraph or two, or three, and I stopped feeling happy with anything less. This is what has led to the backlog: the thought that I’m not doing an item justice if I just knock one out in a couple of minutes, and the brain freeze that comes if I can’t think of what I want to say about it immediately. And if I don’t do them straight away, they sit around and linger….)

So anyway, I’ve decided to just set all of the outstanding items from “draft” to “published”, and get them out of the way. If something sparks off a particularly vivid recollection, I might add a sentence or two–but no more. I’m leaving them all with their original dates, so they’ll show up in roughly the positions that I saw or read the films or books in question. This also means they won’t show up on the list of most recent reviews, but if you’re interested in the ratings, here they are: