Tag Archives: Nisus Thesaurus

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.


Opera 9: First Quick Look

Just started trying out Opera 9 (it was announced on the Buzz Out Loud podcast yesterday). It does have several nifty features (as Tom on BOL said) but it does have its quirks.
For instance, thee WYSIWYG mode here on WordPress doesn’t seem to work. Although items in Mac OS X’s Services menu aren’t greyed out, they don’t seem to work.
Most of the nifty features are approximate equivalent to Firefox extensions. For instance, the “Notes” feature is rather nifty, especially when you want to keep text, but it’s not nearly as useful as Gomita’s Scrapbook extension for Firefox and Flock. The session manager seems to work in a similar way to the “Session Manager” Firefox Extension, especially when combined with the trashcan feature, but it seems a bit less powerful.
Opera 9 seems a bit slow overall, especially with more dynamic (e.g. AJAX) features on some pages (including categories here on WordPress).
Look and feel is ok and Opera might be more customizable than other browsers. Still, that’s not a very important thing for me.
Opera does have a “community” which reproduces or emulates several things that have been popular elsewhere on the Web (for instance, Digg-like community rating). In that sense, it’s an integrated version of several community features. But the browser doesn’t really make the community aspects very prominent.
Opera’s website has a rather elaborate presentation/animation based on some characters representing user types. That presentation looks pretty much like ads in early issues of the Launch magazine (on CD-ROM). It seems like an obvious attempt at generating hype but it doesn’t really carry through as interacting with the animation only leads to very simple information (the accountant/blogger likes widgets…).
It might still work. Opera 9 has a lot of things that people might like and it’s quite possible that some will jump right in. But, at this point, our browsing habits are probably entrenched enough that it’s hard to switch to a new browser and not feel like something is missing in the new one. Safari, Firefox, Flock, Opera, IE, lynx, iCab, Netscape… Each of them has interesting features and you often wish one combines them all. It’s all about workflow. Once you start getting efficient in one browser, there’s a lot of inertia preventing you from switching. In my case, switching from Safari to Firefox has been something of a bumpy ride. Still wish Firefox had some of the features of Safari (especially those provided by OSX’s Services like “check spelling as you type” and shortcut to Nisus Thesaurus). Switching from Firefox to Flock has been quite easy, especially now that some important extensions (like Scrapbook) are readily available in Flock versions (concurrent with the beta release). Still wish Flock had some more Safari-ness, but Flock does have some neat features for bloggers. In fact, at this point, for me, the browser and the blogging tool should be as integrated as possible. My choice still goes for ecto but a blogging browser could eventually be a better choice.
Browser choice is quite similar to the whole OSX vs. XP thing. Yes, it’s possible to switch from one to the other. But like translating poetry with automated tool, it’s kind of missing the point.