Tag Archives: BibDesk

Back in Mac: Low End Edition

Today, I’m buying an old Mac mini G4 1.25GHz. Yes, a low end computer from 2005. It’ll be great to be back in Mac after spending most of my computer life on XP for three years.

This mini is slower than my XP desktop (emachines H3070). But that doesn’t really matter for what I want to do.

There’s something to be said about computers being “fast enough.” Gamers and engineers may not grok this concept, since they always want more. But there’s a point at which computers don’t really need to be faster, for some categories of uses.

Car analogies are often made, in computer discussions, and this case seems fairly obvious. Some cars are still designed to “push the envelope,” in terms of performance. Yet most cars, including some relatively inexpensive ones, are already fast enough to run on highways beyond the speed limits in North America. Even in Europe, most drivers don’t tend to push their cars to the limit. Something vaguely similar happens with computers, though there are major differences. For instance, the difference in cost between fast driving and normal driving is a factor with cars while it isn’t so much of a factor with computers. With computers, the need for cooling and battery power (on laptops) do matter but, even if they were completely solved, there’s a limit to the power needed for casual computer use.

This isn’t contradicting Moore’s Law directly. Chips do increase exponentially in speed-to-cost ratio. But the effects aren’t felt the same way through all uses of computers, especially if we think about casual use of desktop and laptop “personal computers.” Computer chips in other devices (from handheld devices to cars or DVD players) benefit from Moore’s Law, but these are not what we usually mean by “computer,” in daily use.
The common way to put it is something like “you don’t need a fast machine to do email and word processing.”

The main reason I needed a Mac is that I’ll be using iMovie to do simple video editing. Video editing does push the limits of a slow computer and I’ll notice those limits very readily. But it’ll still work, and that’s quite interesting to think about, in terms of the history of personal computing. A Mac mini G4 is a slug, in comparison with even the current Mac mini Core 2 Duo. But it’s fast enough for even some tasks which, in historical terms, have been processor-intensive.

None of this is meant to say that the “need for speed” among computer users is completely manufactured. As computers become more powerful, some applications of computing technologies which were nearly impossible at slower speeds become easy to do. In fact, there certainly are things which we don’t even imagine becoming which will be easy to do in the future, thanks to improvements in computer chip performance. Those who play processor-intensive games always want faster machines and they certainly feel the “need for speed.” But, it seems to me, the quest for raw speed isn’t the core of personal computing, anymore.

This all reminds me of the Material Culture course I was teaching in the Fall: the Social Construction of Technology, Actor-Network Theory, the Social Shaping of Technology, etc.

So, a low end computer makes sense.

While iMovie is the main reason I decided to get a Mac at this point, I’ve been longing for Macs for three years. There were times during which I was able to use somebody else’s Mac for extended periods of time but this Mac mini G4 will be the first Mac to which I’ll have full-time access since late 2005, when my iBook G3 died.

As before, I’m happy to be “back in Mac.” I could handle life on XP, but it never felt that comfortable and I haven’t been able to adapt my workflow to the way the Windows world works. I could (and probably should) have worked on Linux, but I’m not sure it would have made my life complete either.

Some things I’m happy to go back to:

  • OmniOutliner
  • GarageBand
  • Keynote
  • Quicksilver
  • Nisus Thesaurus
  • Dictionary
  • Preview
  • Terminal
  • TextEdit
  • BibDesk
  • iCal
  • Address Book
  • Mail
  • TAMS Analyzer
  • iChat

Now I need to install some RAM in this puppy.


Scholarly Search

Was looking for a resource to import citations/references for book chapters into a citation manager. Turns out Google Scholar does export to several citation managers:

Google Scholar Help
How can I add the full citation of a result on Google Scholar to my bibliography manager?

Just visit the Scholar Preferences page and select your preferred citation format in the “Bibliography Manager” section. We currently support RefWorks, RefMan, EndNote, and BibTeX. Once you’ve saved your preferences, you can import a citation by clicking on the appropriate link in your Google Scholar search results.

Had been using Google Scholar since it came out but had never noticed this feature. D’oh! (Simpson 1989).

It’s not perfect, of course. The data for most citations is quite minimal (initials instead of first names, no abstracts…) but the principle is sound. Plus, Google Scholar links to a lot of external resources, including full-text articles, which usually do have much more data. It helps to either be on-campus at an institution which subscribes to most of the important resources or to have a VPN to such a campus. In that case, Google Scholar’s links do bring you to a lot of full-text articles.

No idea what the API for Google Scholar allows but chances are that some neat features could be added from within a citation manager. The open-source ones would be good bets. At this point, my favourite open-source citation manager is BibDesk. It uses the BibTeX format and takes advantage of several features of Mac OS X such as the Services menu and Spotlight searching.
While it’s not open-source, RefWorks is a very interesting citation management system which often available to all members of an academic institution. Because it uses a Web interface, RefWorks can be difficult to connect to some other tools. But it has a surprisingly large range of features and can be used as a central repository for references. Among its most useful features for courses, RefWorks allows for reference sharing.
Thomson’s EndNote has become something of a de facto standard in the world of academic publishing. It has several disadvantages, including a habit of expensive incremental updates and lack of support for a wide range of text editors and word processors. EndNote also has several interesting features, including connection to library catalogs through the Z39.50 standard and data visualization. Because of its prominence, it tends to be well-supported by most reference databases, including Google Scholar. Indiana University has site-licenses for EndNote and other citation managers.

And there are many other tools available, each with their own sets of features. The citation management scene has evolved nicely, in my humble opinion, but the perfect solution is still far on the horizon, it seems. Ah, well…