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.

Mac Mini

Oh yes.

My new Mac Mini

Update (late, late in the evening): Oh no.

What’s good:

  • It works.
  • It’s beautiful.
  • Q: whereis ruby? A: /usr/bin/ruby. Yum.

What’s bad:

  • My shiny new 21″ flat panel monitor has died on me. Well, partly died. It’s not accepting any signals over DVI any more, only VGA. Crap. Fortunately, it’s still well within its warranty period.
  • The Mini isn’t automatically detecting the monitor’s native resolution of 1680 x 1050, and I don’t know enough about OS X to change the resolution to something non-standard. So I’m running in crappy 1400 x 1050 fuzz-o-vision right now.
  • Actually, I don’t know enough about OS X, period. (How does this dock thing really work? What’s the right way to install applications?) Anyone with Mac experience care to recommend a decent book?
  • I got myself a new Apple Pro keyboard aaaaand….mmmm…not convinced yet. I like the keyboard action, but I don’t like not having anythere to rest my right hand’s fingers nearby the arrow keys without them getting caught in the grooves.
  • And what the hell’s up with putting the @ sign over the number 2 key? Yuck. (Again, anyone with Mac experience…please point me in the direction of a keyboard remapping utility.)
  • And the mental gymnastics of getting used to a different set of command keys… Yurkle.

Preparing for a Mac Mini

With apologies to those of you who think I should just SHUT UP AND BUY THE DAMN THING ALREADY, it’s much more complicated than that. For a start, there’s the whole issue of peripheral devices: keyboards, mice, monitors, external drives, iPods, printers, etc. It struck me the other day that the Mac Mini only has two USB ports, and one firewire port. It also only has an audio out jack, with no way to simply connect a 3.5mm-plug microphone. Given that I’m aiming for a dual PC/Mac setup, this is going to require some thought and planning.

My current plan involves the acquisition of three new items:

  • 4-port USB switching hub. There are several models on the market, and they’re substantially cheaper than a decent KVM switch. Also, my monitor is a widescreen LCD panel running at 1680 x 1050. Most analog KVM switches will handle a video signal of that resolution, but analog KVM switches also make your picture look like shit. And reasonably priced digital switches currently don’t do more than 1600 x 1200.
  • Either a PS2-to-USB adapter for my current (PS2) keyboard, or a new USB keyboard. The adapters aren’t cheap, and buying a new keyboard might even cost less. The problem with this is finding a keyboard I like. (Also, the question of whether to get a Mac or a PC keyboard comes into play. because they use different command and option keys to the left and right of the keyboard. Which option will be less confusing?)
  • A USB microphone. The Labtec mike I bought last month is a 3.5mm job, and that’s not gonna fly any more.

And they all fit together thusly:

  • Big (300GB) external hard drive: stays connected to PC via FireWire. PC will act as a file server over the network.
  • Printer: stays connected to PC via USB. PC will also act as a print server.
  • Audio out: I run the stereo output from my PC to an amp under my desk which drives my desk speakers. The Mac’s audio output will just go to another set of inputs on the amp. Switching audio between machines will require changing the dial on the amp.

  • External DVD writer (LG GSA-5163D): this has one FireWire connector, and two USB connectors. I think I can have this connected to the Mac and the PC at the same time. It’ll go to a free FW port on the PC, and directly to one of the Mac Mini’s two USB ports. Burning DVDs reliably requires good data throughput, and I don’t want any it to hiccup on any USB hubs in the middle.
  • USB switching hub connects to a free USB port on the PC, and the second USB port on the Mini.
  • Mouse, keyboard, and microphone: these all connect directly to the USB switching hub, so they flip back and forth between the Mac and PC.
  • Monitor: the Dell 2005 FPW has lots of different inputs, so it’s going to get a VGA cable from the PC, and a DVI cable from the Mini. (This may change depending on the signal quality from each machine, and which one I end up using more often.) Switching between video signals will be a matter of toggling a button on the monitor. The monitor is also a 4-port USB hub, so its upstream eand gets plugged into the remaining port on the USB switch. That way everything connected to the monitor can also flip between Mac and PC.
  • Media card reader, USB flash memory hard drives, and phone: will all plug into a USB port on the monitor when needed.
  • iPod: will connect to the FireWire port on the Mac Mini. For some reason, my iPod refuses to charge from a USB cable. And before you say it, yes, it’s definitely a powered USB cable I’ve been trying. I’ve tried it on several different machines, in fact, and it barfed on all of them. This is doubly annoying because (for noise reduction reasons) my PC is in a different room than my desk, and the FireWire cable that comes with an iPod doesn’t stretch that far. The Mini, however, will sit on my desk, and the iPod can snuggle up to it when it’s feeling lonesome.

…And all of this is before I’ve even got started on the new software I’ll need…