Sunday, August 03, 2008

Adventures with Macs

I'm a geek wannabe.  Doesn't sound quite right, does it?  You either are or aren't a geek.  You're born that way.  Women, in particular, can tell whether you're a geek with just a glance.  

Well, I may look like a geek, but being one requires that you have a good grasp of the arcanery involved with computers.  And I am the guy to whom my co-workers once gave a t-shirt that read "Bermuda Triangle of the ADP World".  The fact they used the term "ADP" shows that my computer-klutz roots go way, way back.  Years later, the Navy (in all its wisdom) put me in charge of a cutting-edge software technology development effort.  Yes, it's true.  One time my team and I went to our contractor's lab for a demo of the latest "sailor-proof" version of the software.  I crashed it inside of five minutes and it took them the rest of the morning to figure out what happened and get it running again.  I have more stories like that, but you get the idea.  Put me around a computer, and I'm as deadly as a three-year-old with a hammer.

What brought this discussion on is the fact that I now have in my home office not one, not two, but three computers.  First is our old Dell which we've had for about four or five years.  It's getting a little long in the tooth now and needs some TLC every now and then to keep it running.  With me about to be gone for a year, and with Microsoft doing everything in its power to get people to dump their old XP systems and buy Vista (according to all impartial reviewers, a pile of junk), it was clearly time to replace the old Dell.  So we bought an iMac for the home and a MacBook for me to take on my journeys.  

The differences between the two system's philosophies are subtle but significant.  It's like the difference between American English and the Queen's English.  Much is the same, but when you hit a difference, it's usually going to mean something big.  So far I've avoided anything really big.  One time, a new program locked up when I tried to launch it, giving me the Mac's "spinning wheel of death" and not letting me do anything with the computer.  A panicked phone call to a friend who's a long-time Mac owner resolved the situation.  

One oddity that hasn't been resolved yet is wireless access.  This MacBook, like virtually all built these days, has a wi-fi capability built in.  And I have a wi-fi network in my house.  However, my MacBook and network do not talk to each other.  My Mac talks to the wi-fi down at the studio, but not here.  And I know there is a network here because a 16-year-old girl who was dog-sitting for us was able to hop on the net with her Mac in about 2.5 microseconds.  I've been banging on this laptop for a week and haven't done it yet.  Good thing I've got this 14' ethernet cable.

Which brings up the next point.  I have an honest-to-God computer network in my house.  And it works!  That wi-fi network I mentioned above came courtesy of my Verizon DSL account.  They gave me a box that sat on top of The Old Dell and blinked (or not) at me for all these years.  When I got the Macs, I was trying to decide how to transfer all the information from The Old Dell to the new Macs.  (At the risk of incurring the wrath of a certain corporate monolith, I've dubbed them the Big Mac and the Little Mac).  A network was the easiest solution.  First, though, I had to determine if I had this thing called a "router".  So I crawled around under the desk to check out the Verizon box, and sure enough it was a router (the word "router" stamped on the side was a good clue).  After a bit of time connecting ethernet cables and stepping through instructions in my "Switching To The Mac: The Missing Manual" book, lo and behold, the three computers were actually working together.  Frickin' amazing.  Especially for me.

Another point.  The Apple Stores have a big buzz surrounding them that heralds them as The Next Great Thing.  I went into one while visiting San Diego and I was not impressed.  First, it was chaotic and a bit ostentatiously "latest thing".  Second, I wanted to see if they could tell me why my laptop wasn't working with my home wi-fi.  They couldn't.  Even after I told them that the MacBook was at home in North Carolina, they told me to "bring it in and we'll check it out".  Hello, are you listening?  Third, I found a book on switching from PC's to Macs and wanted to buy it, only I couldn't find anybody to actually ring me up.  They were too busy running around talking to each other on their bluetooth headsets to deal with an actual dweebish customer.  I went over to Barnes & Noble and found a good book there.  Score: Apple Store 0, B&N 30.

But I'm happy with the two Macs.  They work extremely well, once you adjust to their "intuitive" operating system (it's only "intuitive" if you think like Steve Jobs).  They're easier to set up and operate than The Old Dell.  And there's an elegance to their design that's really beautiful.  I'm gonna love the Macs.  Now, if I can just figure out this wi-fi thingie ...

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