Category Archives: mac os x

Back in Mac: GTD Edition

Part of the series.
(Series created on August 13, 2011, and applied retroactively…)

Catherine got a MacBook (Combo Drive) last week. Though it’s her computer, I’ve been using it pretty extensively in the past few days. And it’s changing my life for the better.

Long story short. My iBook (Dual USB) from 2001 went kaput in December 2005. In a hurry to get a new computer and being a bit short on cash, I ended up a few weeks later with a refurbished eMachines desktop running XP. Though my original dissatisfaction with the machine probably had to do with the lack of RAM, I still thought fondly of my Mac OS X days and was longing for the day I could use a Mac again. Now that I can, I know why I missed Mac OS X so much.

At this point, I come to think that those people who love XP machines are those who like to play fast-paced games and/or to pirate software. I love computers for other reasons so these don’t apply to me.

Contrary to what is said in the Justin Long and John Hodgman ads, I tend to see Mac OS X as a way to get things done.

Yes, Getting Things Done is the title of a best-selling book by David Allen and has become a buzzphrase in recent years. I was indirectly influenced by some ideas from the book but I prefer to use my own methods of time-management. Still, I can easily associate the Mac with GTD the concept, if not GTD the book (which I haven’t had the time to read).

This past weekend, I read a “Final Assessment” on a Mac OS X application called iGTD. It’s a rather straightforward tool for managing tasks. Kind of a “to-do list on steroids.”

I tried iGTD for a few minutes last night. Neat app and it might end up being useful. I’ll give it more thought as time goes on but as I need to switch between different computers, I don’t think it’ll become my ultimate solution.

Trying iGTD was also a chance for me to try QuickSilver again, after all this time spent on an XP machine. I really like QS and I can really see how it fits in the GTD frame. It’s a convenient way to accomplish a large number of tasks very efficiently. It’s not the fact that it saves you a few seconds at a time which matters. It’s the fact that it makes it easy to not think about what you want to accomplish. Kind of what the QuickSilver people call “Wei Wu Wei – Act Without Doing.” QS is really a Mac OS X thing. It only works on Macs and it really fits in the Mac-based methodology for computer use.

Another example of Mac OS X apps to get things done: OmniOutliner. This is probably the single app which I most missed on XP. Sure, there are outliners on XP. But none of them made my workflow as smooth as OO did. I tried NetManage EccoPro and eventually abandoned it. EccoPro is very powerful and it was an ok replacement for the actual outlining functions but the fact that it hasn’t been developed in ages means that it lacks the kind of features which really make things go smoothly.  In other words, EccoPro is not that compatible with the Mac way of just doing things.

Things are so easy in my OO workflow! For instance, while preparing for courses, I would use OO to take rough notes while reading course material. (Actually, I took many of these notes on a PalmOS device to transfer to OO. That part was never so seamless and I tried everything to improve it but it was a vain attempt. Transferring from Palm to EccoPro is a bit simpler.) In OO, transforming raw notes into course outlines was extremely easy and efficient. I could then easily transform those outlines into printable lesson plans and slides using LaTeX, Keynote, PowerPoint, or RTF. All told, I could transform rough notes into course material in less than 10 minutes without thinking much about what I was doing. Made everything so easy that it really took me a while to adapt my workflow to XP. In fact, I can’t say I ever did. Sure, XP people will say that I could in fact do the same thing thing on XP, that I’m just an Apple fanboy. The fact that the PalmOS integration with OS X wasn’t so smooth seems to prove that point. But the key point here is not about my ability to do things. It’s about the flow part of workflow. Every method I used on XP to accomplish the same tasks eventually worked and I became quite good at them. I probably ended up spending just a few minutes more on any of these tasks. But nothing was really smooth. I could never be mindless about the process. I constantly had to make sure everything was working.

As it turns out OO also fits in the GTD frame. In fact, the first time I heard of GTD was probably on the OO user mailing-list. Some people there wanted the ultimate GTD solution based on OO. OO didn’t have a lot of GTD-savvy features but it seems that it could fit in the GTD methodology overall.

One step further, I think Mac OS X as a whole fits in the GTD frame.

But I probably will never jump on the GTD bandwagon. AFAICT, GTD is mostly based on sorting tasks and tracking them. Again, “to-do list on steroids.” But, contrary to my mother and to my wife, I’m usually no good with to-do lists. I keep accumulating stuff in them and end up more frustrating. Centralized systems work better for me so I do a lot on Gmail. Those who don’t know me extremely well certainly think that I’m completely disorganized. But I’ve found ways to organize myself through apparent chaos. In short, I’m messy and I’m proud of it. But I do respond to the very concept of “just getting things done already” which seems to be associated with GTD-friendly applications. In this case: iGTD, QS, OO, and… Mac OS X.

It sure is good to be back in Mac!

PC Tip#1: Get RAM

I admit: I am a User. A Mac User.

Oh, not that I use a Mac right now. But I’ll probably remain a Mac User all my life.

“Hello, my name is Alex and I’m a Macaholic.”

One year after being forced to switch to an entry-level Windows XP desktop computer, I still have withdrawal symptoms from my days as a full-time Mac User. I get goosebumps while thinking of the possibilities afforded users of Mac OS X. I occasionally get my fix of Mac goodness by spending time on my wife’s 2001 iBook (Dual USB). And, basically, I think like someone who spent the last ten years on a variety of Macintosh models (Mac Plus, iBook, SE/30, Mac IIvx…).

With this addiction, it might be unsurprising that it took me so long to do what any Windows user would have done while buying a computer: getting more RAM.

I finally did exactly that, when I got my first paycheck for the semester. Got a 512MB DIMM a couple of weeks ago and it transformed my PC-using life from a nightmare into something comfortably dull and uninteresting. Not bad for an $80 purchase: – Product Information – eXtreme Memory Upgrades DDR PC2700 512MB

What took me so long? Well, when I went from running Mac OS X 10.3 on a 2001 laptop with a G3 at 500MHz, 384MB, and very little free disk space to running XPSP2 on a 2006 desktop with a Sempron at 2GHz, 512MB, and quite a bit of free disk space, I assumed the new machine would run at least as fast as the old one. When it failed to do so (I would get unbelievably slow response with only Firefox and iTunes as the main apps opened), I started blaming myself more than the lack of RAM. I had noticed a similar lack of performance on some Windows machines in offices in which I had worked in the past. Though I did notice that my pagefile was growing frequently and that many issues I had seemed to be related to memory, I still thought that the fault was in my pattern of use. “Maybe running a browser and a media player at the same time isn’t a common thing to do, in the Windows world.” Oh, it wasn’t an actual reflection. But it’s a set of uneasy impressions I had.  And because I didn’t have much money for RAM (and the machine didn’t cost me much in the first place), I wasn’t particularly interested in buying a DIMM just to make sure the machine is working properly.

Then my friend Alain came over, right after I had installed Office 2007. For some reason, my machine was even slower than it had ever been in the past. Extremely frustrating. Alain, a former Mac User, tried to help me investigate the problem. We did talk about RAM but we focused on defragmentation and such. Nothing really made a difference, at the time, but I gained some hope in making the machine somewhat useable.

When I bought the DIMM, the difference was immediately noticeable. In every single process. My machine is no speed demon (that’s really not what I wanted anyway) but it’s not making me want to yell every time I use it. At this point, using a few apps at the same time is almost as efficient as using the same number and type of apps on my previous iBook.

So I now have a full 1GB of RAM on my emachine H3070 and it’s performing semi-appropriately when I have two or three apps open at the same time. My life improved drastically. 🙂

iRiver H120 (Digital Audio Jukebox)

Recently purchased a brand new iRiver H120 with remote control on eBay from OutletMP3. Paid 132.50$ plus 18$ shipping. Also purchased a 3-year warranty through SquareTrade for 16$.
Item arrived as described, with both the European power adapter (in the original box) and a North American power adapter (in the shipping box). The remote control is included in the package but is outside of the original box. OutletMP3 sells those iRiver H120 devices with or without remote control (usually at about the same price).
Yes. “Would do business with OutletMP3 again.” (As it turns out, they sell iriver products quite frequently on eBay and they have an eBay store with “Buy It Now” iRiver H120 devices without remote for 150$ each.)
The best things about this device are its recording features. Those iRiver H1x0 models can record uncompressed sound in WAV format at 16bit with a sampling rate of 48 kHz (so-called “DAT quality”), 44.1 kHz (so-called “CD-quality”), or lower (“FM-quality,” “voice quality”). It also records directly to MP3 files (with the official firmware) in a variety of encoding settings (up to 320 kbps). It has an internal microphone for voice dictation as well as an input for external microphone, analog line in, or optical in.
The box includes a surprisingly decent lavaliere-style monophonic microphone. Not an excellent microphone in any way but clearly better than one might expect (though Laith Ulaby had told me that this microphone was decent).

In terms of operation, the unit has some strengths. The overall interface is much less convenient than that of the iPod, say, but the battery lasts longer than most iPods (for playback). The iRiver H120’s remote has a small LCD screen which shows enough information for most needs making it possible for me to keep the H120 in my pant pocket and operate the device with the remote. While, among portable players, only the iPod has native support for AAC and lossless formats, iRiver players support Ogg Vorbis and WMA. Haven’t done anything in Ogg format yet but it might be an interesting option (though it does make files less compatible with other players).

Apart from navigation and interface, the main differences with my previous iPod 2G have to do with iTunes integration. The iPod‘s synchronization with iTunes made it rather convenient to create and update playlists or to transfer podcasts. iRiver’s models may not be used in the same fashion. However, the iRiver H120 can in fact be used with iTunes through a plugin meant for Archos players. However, this plugin seems to have some problems with a few files (probably because of invalid characters like ‘/’ and ‘:’ in filenames), generates non-working playlists on Mac OS X, and puts all filed in an “Artist/Album” hierarchy which makes iRiver navigation more complicated.

What surprised me somewhat was that the H120, a USB 2.0 device, works perfectly well with my old iBook (Dual USB) which only has USB 1.1 ports. No need for special drivers and the device then works pretty much like a (20GB) USB drive. Since the iRiver H120 works as a USB drive, it’s easy to transfer files to and from the device (contrary to the iPod which makes somewhat more difficult). All audio files can be put at the root level on the iRiver and audio recordings made on the iRiver are in the “RECORD” folder at the root level of the drive. While the iBook’s USB 1.1 ports are much slower than USB 2.0 ones, they do the job well enough for my needs. (Will be going back to my entry-level emachines H3070 in a few days.) A 400 MB file recorded on the iRiver (about 40 minutes of 16 bit stereo sound at 44.1 kHz) transferred to the iBook through USB 1.1 in less than ten minutes. Slow, but bearable. My old iPod used a Firewire 400 (aka IEEE 1394 or i.Link) connection which is about the same speed as USB 2.0 in most conditions. My entry-level emachines desktop has both USB 2.0 and Firewire 400 ports (thanks to an inexpensive Firewire card).

Was thinking about putting Rockbox on the H120 but SquareTrade tells me that it may void their warranty, which would be an inconvenient. The Rockbox has some neat features and seems safe enough to use on “production machines,” but its features aren’t that compelling for me at this point.
The H120 has a radio (FM) tuner, which could be useful to some people but isn’t really a compelling feature for me. Haven’t listen to much radio in the past several years. Podcasts are soooo much better!

Speaking of podcasts… One of my reasons for purchasing this machine (instead of a more recent iPod) was the ease of recording. This is clearly not a professional recording device but the sound quality seems quite decent for my needs at this point. Should be using it to record lectures and distribute them as podcasts or “lecturecasts” (yeah, ugly name, sorry!). In my mind, educational podcasting can supplement lectures quite nicely. Have been to a few workshops and presentations on technology use in teaching and most people seem to agree that technology is no replacement for good pedagogy but that good pedagogy can be supplemented and complemented (if not complimented!) by interesting tools. Had been thinking about a recording iPod to integrate podcasts with course material. It would have been quite useful, especially in connection with iLife and iWork. But an iPod 5G (with video) is already much more expensive than my iRiver H120 and the add-ons to enable 44.1 kHz / 16 bit recording on the iPod are only now getting to market at a price almost half that of my brand new iRiver H120. Plus, though the iPod is well-integrated with iTunes on Windows, iLife and iWork applications are only available on Mac OS X 10.4 and, thus, will not run on the entry-level emachines H3070 which will become my primary machine again in a few days.
In other words, my ideal podcasting/lecturecasting solution is out of my reach at this point. And contrary to tenure-track faculty, lecturers and adjunct faculty get no technology budget for their own use.
Ah, well…

Still, my iRiver H120 will work fine as a recorder. Already did a few essays with voice and environmental sounds. The lavaliere microphone was quite convenient to record myself while taking a walk which sounds like an unusual activity but was in fact quite relaxing and rather pleasant. In terms of environmental sounds, the same microphone picked up a number of bird songs (as well as fan noises).
Among the things that distinguish the H120 from a professional recorder is the lack of a proper calibration mechanism. It’s not possible to adjust the recording levels of the two channels independently and it’s even not possible to adjust volume during recording. (There’s a guide offering some guidance on how to work within those constraints.) Quite unsurprisingly (for what is mostly an MP3 player) but also making the device less of a professional device, its jacks are 3.5 mm “stereo mini-plugs” (instead of, say, XLR jacks). For that matter, the iRiver H120 compares favourably to several comparably-priced MiniDisc recorders, even Hi-MD models. Did field research with a used ATRAC 4.0 MiniDisc recorder. That setup worked somewhat adequately but this iRiver H120 is much of an improvement for me.

Got a few pet peeves about the iRiver H120. For instance, it has no actual clock so recorded files do not carry a timestamp. A minor quibble, of course, but it would have been useful. The overall navigation is as awkward as that of my first MP3 device, the RioVolt (which also used iRiver firmware). One navigational issue is that navigating up and down in the folder hierarchy is done through the stop and play buttons instead of, say, using one of the three jog switches on the remote. Some functions only work when the device is stopped while others work while it’s playing. Switching from hard-disk playing to recording or to FM is a bit awkward and cumbersome. The unit takes a while to turn on and doesn’t really have a convenient sleep mode. While it is possible to resume playing on a track that has been stopped, this feature seems not to work every time. Fast forwarding rate (“scan speed”) is set in a menu instead of being dynamic as on the iPod. The device doesn’t support ratings or, really, descriptions (although Rockbox might be able to support those).

Also got a few well-appreciated features, apart from those stated above. The EQ and SRS presets are appropriate and relatively easy to use. Contrary to the iPod 2G it is possible to play files at a higher rate (increasing the “playback speed”) making it possible to listen to voice at a higher speech rate (and higher frequency). It’s also possible to delete files directly from the device.

At any rate, that’s already a long entry and experience with my H120 will probably push me to write more about the device.

Feel free to comment or send questions through email.

iPod Recording: Getting There

UPDATE: Purchased an iRiver H120 jukebox/recorder.
So we're getting closer to appropriate recording solutions on the iPod 5G (with video). Apart from the drain on battery life, Griffin's soon-to-be-released (and iLounge-tested) iTalkPro looks quite promising:

Griffin iTalkPro Stereo Microphone for iPod 5G | First Look

Continue reading iPod Recording: Getting There

First week with an emachine H3070

Bought this refurb’ed emachines H3070 online through (the online store for Best Buy Canada). Got the machine on December 30. Relatively painless order process. Had been waiting for some “Boxing Day” sales (on December 26, the equivalent of Black Friday in Canada). Got the machine for 399$. With taxes (15% in Quebec) and express shipping (around 11$): 473$. Not bad. Got a 15″ CRT monitor at a pawn shop for 22$. So a true sub-500$ system. In Canadian dollars.

Continue reading First week with an emachine H3070