Apple Road Trip

Well, it’s a Monday afternoon road trip for AL and I. Just a quick reminder; AL is what I call my MacBook Pro and of course Yves (the iPhone) is with us as well.  We are sitting in a café waiting for the missus to join us after work.

It is weird to leave the comfort of your own home where one has pretty much everything at hand and go somewhere you will have to pay for anything you want. However, I had to get out of my house. The weather was somewhat agreeable to go for a short walk to my local Internet enabled café. The agreeable weather is a balmy -7C (-13C with the wind chill); which compared to last 10 days or so makes it feel like summer outside. Prior to today, the temperature hovered around -30C (-40C with the wind chill), so going outside was not an option I would have even considered. The more agreeable weather and the chance to get some fresh air is not why I decided to leave the creature comforts of home. I had to get out of my apartment because I could no longer take the noise all around me. To say the walls in my building are paper-thin would not do justice how thin the walls are. From the outside they look thick enough, but once you spend a few minutes inside, you quickly realize there is nothing between them but air.

When my fiancée and I visited the apartment last summer, there was no noise at all. All seemed peaceful and although the living room was not as big as I would have liked, the rest of the apartment was great. There are six apartments in the building; the elderly landlady occupies one apartment and another by her son and daughter in-law. The other renters are couples in their 30s. The building is within walking distance a few grocery stores and in the summer, is a 10-minute bike ride to an outdoor market. There are a few cafés, restaurants, bistros, and bars within the area. So when we signed the lease, we had no way of knowing what we were walking into.

We met our downstairs neighbor on our second day in the building. He warned us the walls were thin and that he was able to hear the previous tenant sneeze. He told me that if ever I thought he was being to loud, I should come and see him. I thought to myself, he must be exaggerating to how thin the walls were. Well, he wasn’t. As I mentioned, the landlord, her son, and daughter in-law live in the building and they don’t talk, so much as they yell. Not angry yelling; but rather just normal conversation yelling. Sometimes, they hold entire conversations between floors. I can turn off the volume on my TV and found what station my neighbors are watching, and I sometimes I feel a part of their conversations.

If it was only the landlord and her relations who were loud, I could live with it, maybe. However, the guy who lives on top of us doesn’t walk so much as stomp. There are times I think he is going to come through the ceiling the way he walks.  He’s another loud talker. My fiancée and I have nicknamed him Boomboom. When Boomboom comes down the stairs, it sounds like a charging herd of elephants. If any of you think I’m exaggerating, I will gladly have you over so you can experience first hand the stampede every morning and those evenings he goes out at night.

My biggest beef is with the guy who lives in the apartment below me. You remember him, the one who warned me the walls were thin and I should let him know if he was being to loud. This genius decided to install a home theater unit with what I can only guess is surround sound, speakers on the wall and ceiling. He watches TV or plays a video game sometimes so loud, that the floor under me vibrates. I can feel these vibrations sometimes when I am lying on the couch, that is how loud it is.

In a battle to listen to what I am watching/playing, I have to raise the volume on my TV. I have to raise it to such a volume that it is no longer pleasant to me. In the evenings, my fiancée goes to bed before I do, so I lower the TV so as not to bother her. However this asshole keeps his as loud as ever. Sometimes I end up watching my show; but listening to his. Some of you may be thinking why not go down and talk to him? Well, I’ve done that and my fiancée has as well. Each time, normal listening volumes lasted about a week. Neither my fiancée or I should have to go downstairs every night to ask him to lower the volume on his TV. If he hasn’t understood how loud it is by now, he never will.

I am not sure if these people don’t realize how loud they are or if they don’t care. In the end, I have two solutions. I can stay at home and live with the noise. I can keep complaining; but then I just look like a complete asshole; especially if I’m going down to complain about the noise at three in the afternoon. My other choice is to do what I am doing now, going out to a café. It is kind of sad that I find it quitter in a café full of people, than I do at home.

The only thing I am sure of is that we will not renew our lease on the 1st of July. In Montreal, it is necessary to give notice at least three months before the end of your lease if you don’t want it automatically renewed. My fiancée and I are now sixty days away from giving notice. The end of my lease can not come soon enough.

This blog entry may not have had much to do with my new life with Apple products; but it was written on my MacBook while sitting in a café, listening to music from iPhone.

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My Kingdom for a Widget

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!
William Shakespeare (Richard III)

As cool as it might be to have a horse, I really don’t need one; but a widget on my phone, now that is something I could use. Not being able to put a widget on my home screens, is the one thing I miss the most since switching to an iPhone from an Android phone. I can not for the life of me understand why Apple is so dead set against widgets in iOS. I can understand Apple not wanting 3rd party applications having access to certain parts of the phone’s OS; but at the very least, Apple itself could offer widgets. I know Steve Jobs was against a smaller iPad and a larger iPhone, yet since his passing we have the iPad Mini and the 4 inch iPhone. Would it be so far-fetched for Tim Cook to sign off on widgets or even for Sir Johnathan Ive to give the green light to widgets? I use the “Sir” part of Ive’s name in the hope that by chance he reads this blog and seeing the respect I showed him, orders widgets ASAP on every iOS known. I can dream, can’t I?

I truly believe I’m in widget withdrawal. Just thinking about them, brings a smile to my face. Widgets, those beautiful little mini-windows packed with all kinds of useful information at a glance. I miss not seeing the information I want right away. I should not have to first tap on one of the context menus, then the app, and maybe another menu, to see what I want. A widget is a great tool for smartphones that Apple should embrace and not reject out-rightly.

On my Samsung Galaxy, I had a widget for almost every kind of information I wanted. I had my Google widget for quickly searching the web. Spotlight is close, but there is an extra step in having to tap on “Search the Web”. Not a big deal; but none the less an extra step to get what I want. I had a widget for Facebook, to easily see all of my family/friend’s updates. I had my Twitter widget. I had a widget for my 3G usage. The is is one of two widgets I miss the most. The 3G widget not only kept track of my usage; but estimated how much data I was going to use for the month and let me know if I might go over my quota. The other widget I miss the most was the one that tracked my monthly talk time minutes. I know I can check this information in Settings; but it isn’t nearly the same, as I only get a global total since the last reset. I’m sorry, that is an asinine way of keeping track of your monthly minutes.  In my plan, I have free minutes from certain incoming/outgoing numbers and during certain times of the day. There is no way for me to configure these exceptions within iOS, something I was able to do with my Android widgets. Does Apple expect me to write the length of my calls from my free numbers and free minutes, than do the math? I can connect to my carrier to get the information; but I shouldn’t have to.

Even if Apple doesn’t want to give me some of the above mentioned widgets, at the very least, give me an easier way to turn on/off WiFi/Bluetooth, and please give me an easier way of going into Airplane mode, rather than having to go through Settings each time. The Notification Center seems like the perfect place for these buttons. Why aren’t they there? There should also be a button to instantly kill all open applications in one shot, rather than tapping on each one individually. Closing apps the Apple way is tiresome, time-consuming,  and feels so much like an old school way of doing it. I know these types of changes are possible to iOS, because I am able to do all of this and more on my iPad. The difference between my iPad and iPhone? The iPad is jailbroken and the iPhone isn’t. I’m waiting for a jailbreak to be available for my version of iOS (6.0.2) and then, faster than Superman can leap a tall building, I will have jailbroken (jailbreaken?) my iPhone.

I can’t believe more Apple users haven’t asked for all or some of these innovations. Why haven’t Apple developers tried to push for these changes over the years? Is it because Apple is so blinded by its way of doing things, that it can’t see how useful widgets are? I know widgets have more of wear and tear on the battery; but the iPhone battery is still better than most Android based phones, can’t we just assume that even with the ability to add widgets the phone would still have a better battery life? If having widgets on my screens, cost me 1 hour of battery life, I think I would be fine with it. In the end, I can only hope Apple one day sees the light and allows widgets.

A widget! A widget! My kingdom for a widget!
Pareech (iPhone 5, iOS 6.0.2)

Takin’ A Bite Out of the Apple: The Little Things

As much as an earlier blog of mine, bestowed praise upon the MacBook Pro, I will admit to a few annoyances with the laptop. Annoyances I do not think I will be able to get over, no matter how long I keep the MBP.

For years, when I would buy a new laptop, I would get one with a 17 inch screen, as I found this an ideal size for a laptop. My first foray into an Apple laptop is a 13 inch MacBook Pro. The difference 4 inches can make on a viewing area is incredible. I find myself having to increase the viewing size of some web pages, emails, or even when using Excel. I am ever so grateful I didn’t go with my first instinct to get an 11 inch MBP. I think if I had gotten one that small, I would have tossed it out the window, within hours of bringing it home.

The problem with the screen size, is not so much with web sites; but rather when working in Word or Excel. I have to increase my viewing size in Word to 125%, just so I can read what I’m typing. When I had a larger screen in Excel, I would often lower the viewing percentage, normally to 85%, so having to dramatically increase it, is a new phenomenon for me. Almost every email I receive, I am increasing the viewing size. Excel, I have found that viewing at 150% gives me the right viewing size. However, this is not something I can blame on Apple or anyone else for that matter. The screen size was my choosing and I will live it, because the only alternative would be to replace it with a MBP with a larger screen and I’m not ready to do that after 6 weeks. I could buy a monitor; but I don’t think I could justify the cost for the amount of time I would use it.

My biggest displeasure with the MBP, is the keyboard. It might be the worst keyboard I have ever had the misfortune to use. I find it stiff and not very conducive to touch typing. When I say touch-typing, I mean I type about 90 words a minute with an error rate of 6 words. The touch-typing numbers are from when I was using a Windows-based laptop. I am still doing around 90 words a minute; but I my error rate has almost doubled, if not tripled. The problem I am having, is that I find I have to really push down on the keys to get them to register. The longer, I have to spend holding a key down, the slower I type. I often find plenty of red squiggly lines in my paragraphs, because letters didn’t get touched long enough. Before moving to Apple, most of my errors were spelling mistakes, reversed letters, misspelled words; but now on top of those errors, I am getting the missing letter typo as well. In fact, while typing this paragraph, I have had to re-type certain words because for it wasn’t picked up when I was typing. What I should have done is just left the paragraph as it was with the missing letter errors for everyone to see and just corrected my spelling errors.

I really ca not hide my utter disappointment in the keyboard. In the past, when I was looking for a new laptop, the first thing I did was test the keyboard and often would pass on a laptop, simply because I did not like the feel of the keyboard. The problem with an Apple laptop, is I can configure or at least select my screen size, amount of RAM, HD size,  and a few other bells and whistles, there is no choice in keyboards. I found all the keyboards as being the same, across the different models. I could use a Bluetooth keyboard and I think it is a great keyboard, that I use it from time to time with my iPad; but I don’t want to have to lug around a laptop and a keyboard with me.

I would have preferred if Mountain Lion would allow me to show known file extensions by default, and not hiding them when I save a file. I like to see my “pdf”, “doc”, “xls”, “txt” at the end of files. I should not have to uncheck the “Hide file extension” box each time I save a file. I have selected the option in settings to show file extensions; but then it shows me alllllll the file extensions and for lack of a better word, uglies up Launchpad. I don’t need to see after every application “.app” in Launchpad.

I have tried over the past few weeks to give the Mail application a chance; but I think it might be the biggest piece of doggie excrement ever pre-installed on a system. If I could go more than one day without it asking me for a password to either send or receive an email, I would take back all I just said about it. I just tried to send an email via Gmail and received a pop-up asking me to enter my password. Really? All of a sudden after all these weeks of using it to send email, I have to enter my Gmail password again? So, I did a little test. I closed the application, re-launched it, hit send on my email again, and without even blinking an eye my mail was sent. Uhhhhhh, WTF????!!! I’m sorry; but I really don’t know how else to express my dismay over this application. I would use Thunderbird, if I could get it to show up in the Notification Center; but as I can’t, I suck it up with Mail.

Some of my complaints are minor faults; but are faults none the less. The file extension request is an esthetic thing  and more a user preference than anything else, so I can ignore that annoyance. The size of the monitor, could be solved by buying a bigger laptop, so that one is on me; but the other two problems I have, come directly from Apple and its design team. I’m not sure if others have had the same complaints as I do with regards to the keyboard; but the typing experience on an MBP keyboard is horrid. As for Mail asking for your account password almost daily I know is a common problem, as I have read in plenty of forums people complaining about this problem and have done so for a few years already.

For a company that wants to make sure the user has the best experience possible, I would think someone would have found a way to fix the Mail problem years ago and would have done something about the keyboard issue. However, one thing I have learned from reading in the forums is that Apple will fix your minor problems; but when it comes to OS issues, they are very slow to react, if they react at all.

Link

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others
George Orwell (Animal Farm)

The above quote is from Napoleon the pig, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, as he is trying to explain how all animals are the same; but some might be slightly better than others. Much like in the fictional world of Animal Farm, this holds true in the very real world of software available to Apple and Windows users. Microsoft’s Office for Mac may look and feel like the one designed for Windows; but it seems to lack some of the bells and whistles that make Office a great product, at least in my opinion.

I have said it over and over, I love my Apple products, even if I’m not a fan of everything Apple. For now, my biggest complaint with using my MacBook, is the difference in applications that exist for Windows and Apples users. I know most of the big applications people use are available; but they seem to be the lite version.

With the NHL lockout over, my friends and I can now get back to the business of watching hockey (Go Habs Go) and getting ready for my hockey pool in a couple of weeks. I keep all my stats and draft preparations in Excel. I have used the same format for years and never had a problem creating web queries when I used the Windows version of Excel. However, I’m not using Windows anymore and now have Excel 2011 for Mac. Creating web queries with Excel for Windows is easy and there are plenty of things you can configure to make sure your data is properly formatted. The Excel version for Mac, is not so easy to create proper web queries, limited in formatting option, and is a 13 step process:

  1. Go to a Web page that has the Web tables that you want to put in Excel.
  2. Highlight the Web address in the address field and choose Edit→Copy.
  3. Switch to Microsoft Word and open a new document.
  4. Launch Word if it’s not open already.
  5. Paste URL into Word
  6. In Word, choose File→Save As.
  7. Click Format and choose Plain Text (.txt) from the pop-up menu that appears.
  8. Type a filename, replacing .txt with .iqy as the file extension.
  9. If you encounter the File Conversion dialog, select the MS_DOS radio button, and then click OK.
  10. Click the Save button.
  11. Open Excel.
  12. Choose Data→Get External Data→Run Saved Query.
  13. Open the .iqy file you saved in Word.

Oh… My… God!!! That is absolutely exhausting and time-consuming. There are 30 teams in the NHL and I had to do that 30 times. Well, I would have had to do it 30 times if I had done it on my MBP. My fiancée wasn’t at home, so I used Excel on her Windows computer to set up the queries. It still took almost an hour to do everything I wanted to do; but I can’t even imagine how long it would have taken me if I had done it on my MBP.

I am somewhat at a loss why there is such a difference in the versions. I have found similar problems when I use Word for Mac. It looks the same, it feels the same; but with a few subtle differences. It is entirely possible, the functionality I want is available in the Mac version; but it is different and I am unable to find it. I have tried doing searches on the web for my various problems and the only solutions I find are for Windows’ Excel. I really can not believe I am unable to do web queries any simpler than how I described it above. The only thing better in Excel for Mac, is the copy/paste feature. In Excel for Windows, if you copy something and then type something in a cell or hit ESC, you lose what was in the clipboard. In Excel for Mac, I can copy a cell, type something else and then paste what I copied. I have never understood why Excel forgot what was copied the moment you typed something else.

Then there is Outlook for Mac. Although I don’t use it very much, I still have an email account that needs to use it. I have two problems with the version of Outlook for Mac. The Outlook for Mac version, does not let me delay the sending and receiving of emails. As soon as I open Outlook, it receives and as soon as I hit send on my email, it is sent.  This is no good to me for two reasons. I like to keep some emails on my provider’s servers, so I can access them via webmail wherever I am. The auto-receiving, is not my biggest pet-peeve with Outlook; but rather the auto-sending. I do not like to have my emails sent as soon as I hit the send button. There are times where I have written an email and after a few minutes, decided what I had written was not what I wanted and made some changes. In Outlook for Mac, the only way to make sure mail is not sent automatically is by taking Outlook offline. I wouldn’t mind so much taking Outlook offline, if I didn’t have to do it every time I opened Outlook.

I have used Outlook for at least 10 years. It was a way to get my email from my original account. Over the years, I have accumulated a lot of emails in my pst file. I have been able to import the pst files from one version of Outlook to another. The last version of Outlook for Windows I used, was Outlook 2010, as part of the Microsoft Office Suite. With Outlook 2011 for Mac, I am unable to import this pst file because the version is too old or at least that is the message Outlook tells me. However, I went to a friend’s house to see if he could import it on his Windows’ Outlook 2011. It was, wham bam thank-you ma’am, the file imported without a problem.

It’s not just the main stream applications that I have a problem with; but I miss some of the smaller applications I had, that made my life easier. If anyone reading this is a Windows user, I would recommend these programs: POP Peeper (email checker), SuperCopier (used to efficiently make copy/move files), or even MS Paint which comes pre-installed with Windows.

In the end, I will use what is available to me and make the best of it. I just feel that some of the cross-platform applications for Mac, is like buying a knock off name brand piece of clothing. You think you are buying a Dolce & Gabbana; but in fact you are really getting Dulce & Cabana. It looks the same, it sounds the same; but there is something a bit off about the product. I have a theory why some applications available to both Windows and Apple users are the same, yet different. When I encounter problems like those in Excel and Outlook, I think it’s Microsoft’s way of having fun with Apple users. It’s their way of saying, you should have bought a PC. Of course this may just be my conspiratorial side coming out. Until someone can prove to me otherwise, I’m going with that theory.

The Mac, is the Mac Daddy

TheMacDaddy

I have had my MacBook Pro or as I like to call it, AL, for almost a month now. In the beginning, there were times I questioned my sanity in deciding to change to a MacBook after years of being a Windows user. I couldn’t get it to do what I want, I couldn’t figure how to close applications properly, I kept confusing minimizing and hiding applications. Like any new relationship, there was a feeling out period and there were times that I thought to myself, this….. is….. not…. worth….. it….. I WANT A DIVORCE!!! In the end, all the early frustrations and sanity questioning has been worth it.

I love my Apple products and haven’t the faintest idea how I could have held on to my Apple hate for all these years. I don’t think I’ve become an Apple snob and praise all that is Apple.  Rather, I’ve seen what can happen when an operating system is designed with the user in mind, rather than being designed with the computer in mind.

The MBP is so much more than I could have hoped for.  The computer is lightning fast, quiet as a mouse, the battery life is amazing, and I am learning to love using a trackpad again. The Apple trackpad, might be one of the things I appreciate the most on the MBP. On my previous laptops, I hated the trackpad; but on the MBP I can two finger swipe to the left, four finger swipe up or down, two finger tap, three finger tap, two finger scroll left, right, up, down, clean my apartment. Ok, maybe not clean my apartment with a swipe of the trackpad; but you get the picture. The trackpad that was once the bane of my life on laptops, is now my new best friend.

I never knew that boot up times shouldn’t go on and on and on and on, even after logging in. More often than not, I would log in to my laptop and go do what I had to do and hope by the time I came back, the system was ready to start accepting some kind of input. Even those times I just put the laptop to sleep, it would be slow to wake-up. It was almost as slow as me, before my first three cups of coffee in the morning. Don’t even get me started on the ease of installing and uninstalling applications. Drag, drop, done.

Aside from my day to day use of the MBP, the one exterior component I find an absolute god send, is the MagSafe power connector. I have a tendency to trip over my laptop’s power cable when I’m at home or move my laptop without realizing the cord is wrapped around something. On my old laptops there was the danger of either bending the power nib or worse yet, snag the cord of the the laptop while walking by and watch helplessly as it crashed to the floor. Now I can skip, jump, drag my feet, or sashay around the laptop because the MagSafe pops off the MBP as easily as a magnet being pulled off a fridge.

As of late, something odd and refreshing is happening when I work on a Windows machine. When I sit in front of a Windows computer to help someone, I find myself looking for my Apple keys and having to take a moment to remember what key combination to use or worst of all, I try swiping on the track and nothing happens. It is then, that I remember what system I am sitting in front of and bemoan how limiting Windows is at times. I know there still is a lot Windows can do, that OS X can’t; but the way Apple has made their system user-friendly is ridiculous. In this sense, ridiculous is awesome.

Is the MacBook a perfect computer? For me it is; but for others it may not. It all depends on what you want. My overall experience so far, has been great, save for the annoyances with a couple of built-in applications; hello Mail and Reminders. The problems I’m experiencing with these two applications, I’ll save for a future venting of frustrations blog. Regardless of these two annoyances, the ease and simplicity of what Apple has created is amazing. I could not have asked for a better start to my new Apple way of life. I am looking forward to many more years of enjoyment and more than likely, adding a few more Apples to my basket of gadgets.