Tag Archives: OmniOutliner

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.

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Back in Mac: GTD Edition

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!