MonthMay 2005

My Tiger report: Spotlight and Dashboard are amazingly sloooooooow

Here’s the hardware: 1.67GHz Powerbook, with 1GB of RAM. (That’s the model with the fast, 5400rpm drives.) A fair number of apps running – um, 31 at latest count, though quite a few of those aren’t doing anything (eg PHP Function Index, which I just refer to from time to time. It’s terrific.)

I also have Keyboard Maestro (the old, 1.2 version) running in the background, because I have various Applescripts linked to keyboard shortcuts. It gets my email signed with different signatures according to what I’m doing, things like that.

But when I hit the keyboard shortcuts for Spotlight, or for Dashboard (the latter of which I’ve changed to alt-space), there’s a delay of seconds before either Spotlight will start finding stuff, or the Dashboard will appear.

Look, I’ll show you. See? Dashboard took about three seconds to do anything there. I get the impression that it’s swapping memory in and out.

Is anyone else seeing this, or got any ideas? Could it be Keyboard Maestro, which traps passing keyboard input to see whether it matches any of the keystrokes in its records?

More browser madness: is Google forcing me to use the site?

Following on from an earlier post, I’m trying out various browsers (to try to escape Safari’s memory-eating tendencies).

Camino is slightly ahead at the moment, because it can import bookmarks etc from Safari; Firefox doesn’t have anything in the “Import…” dialog box when I open it.

However, both Firefox and Safari are defaulting to opening even though I type into the URL field. As is iCab. As is Omniweb.

I would suspect it was to do with my ISP, except that it doesn’t happen with Safari.

That’s weird. I mean, weird. Principally because the site doesn’t have access to the Google History feature, which I think is cool (and cooler than things like localised maps, which I can go to the site if I want them, thank you).

Anyone else in the UK finding this?

Why OSX lost its stripes

Michael Tsai (author of SpamSieve) notes that as OSX has iterated, the pinstripes have faded and faded to nothingness, in See the cat? See the stripes?.

The reduction of the stripes and gratuitous transparency are, to me, among the most important changes that Apple has made to the OS. As with some of the other OS X improvements between the public beta and 10.4, celebrating this is kind of like thanking the bully for not beating you up anymore. It doesn’t really make sense, but you’re so happy that the bruises are healing.

Certainly I complained like mad about the unreadability of screens in the beta -“like they’re smeared with margarine”, I said at the time. But I think Michael’s got it just right here:

My theory is that the stripes were a gimmick to encourage carbonization by making Classic applications look ‘bad.’ Now that most people no longer use Classic, and Jonathan Ive is into solid-colored hardware, the stripes no longer serve any purpose.

Even stronger than that; I think stripes were absolutely about making Classic look different and old, and now that you don’t get Classic unless you go and hunt out a CD with it on (was it Tiger that dropped it, or Panther?), you won’t notice how much easier the Classic windows were to navigate, drag around and so on. Personally, I keep ‘falling off’ the edges of windows when I’m dragging them – which I never used to do with OS9 and earlier.

Tiger: a rush to market means that it’s full of interface errors

Andrew Orlowski has a nicely-paced and thought-out critique of Apple’s Tiger OS over at The Register.

He gives with the one hand:

If Microsoft had announced that the next version of Windows XP would sleep and wake up within three seconds with near 99.99 per cent reliability, would pick up a WiFi network within 10 seconds with similar consistency, and was now free of viruses, then users would flock to upgrade. But even the first, barely usable version of Mac OS X boasted this when it first appeared March 2001.

And then neatly takes away:

in areas where Mac OS X Tiger does offer impressive potential advantages over its predecessors, these are hampered by poor and often inexplicable interface design decisions. Tiger also loses points by removing features computer users have long taken for granted. Let’s deal with the latter first.

Saving an MP3 that you’ve loaded from a web page and played in Safari now requires an additional $29.99 payment for Quick Time Pro. That will be reason enough not to upgrade for many. Roxio’s Toast no longer burns songs purchased from Apple’s Music Store. Right-clicking to download a file from Safari still works, but for how long is anyone’s guess. The trend isn’t in the right direction – Apple has gradually been removing multimedia features from its software products (see Apple de-socializes iTunes).

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Apple now views the Mac as a platform for a closed home entertainment system – based on iTunes and QuickTime – rather than an open computing platform.

He hits the mark over Spotlight:

More seriously, the user interface severely hampers what queries can be made. The dearth of boolean operators (AND is permitted) means that it isn’t possible to query for documents containing “Microsoft” and “Antitrust” but not “EU”.

(Though I feel someone is going to come up with a GUI tool that will let one do this as an app. Come on – there’s a command-line app for Spotlight, and the boolean stuff is now well-known. Get coding, people!)

(Oh, and here are clear explanations of how to do NOT and OR in Spotlight. You can already do the non-exclusive AND by including both terms. Or is it by using AND?)

And he rounds it off:

Spotlight is great technology, but it fails because the poor UI lets it down: its potential isn’t tapped. And Dashboard was only ever about bling.

It’s thoughtful, because it doesn’t take the improvements on face value, but rather asks “How good could this have been, with a little more work?”

Meanwhile I’m looking around for a different browser, as Safari is eating my RAM. Top says it’s got “101M” of my 1GB of RAM. OK, so I have a Java window sitting there, but even so, I don’t think that showing about ten windows in tabs really deserves one-tenth of my whole memory. Already tried Firefox – but it doesn’t have window navigation from the keyboard. Into the trash with you! Next: Omniweb. Next after that: paying for iCab 3. If I’m going to pay for a browser, why not a fast one which has always been on the Mac?

It should have a black background, bright green letters and a blinking green line, really

Fantastic tale of The Worst Web Application Ever! from Doug Hughes, who only wanted to prove to his bank that he was actually in charge of his company.

To do this, though, he had to navigate the thicket of a mainframe interface that had somehow found its way onto the web.

The amazing thing is that he did it. (Twice – I’m guessing he went back to do the screenshots.) The even more amazing thing is what his bank told him when he called them to ask why they hadn’t got the same information out as him.

Of course, online banking that we see is just this stuff at one remove… which makes me feel a bit anxious, actually.

If the name fits…

Simply perfect: the name of the British Medical Association’s spokesman on hospital hygiene is… Dr Paul Grime.


The Golden Rule for deciding whether to buy the album when you hear the single

I’ve been meaning to write this one up for ages. Anyway, here it is.

You hear a single on the radio, the first one off a new album (probably by an artist you’ve not heard or heard of), and think “Wow! That’s fantastic! This band is incredible! Must get the album!”

You get to the shop (real or online) and there’s the album, all cute, and it’s got that single on.

Now pause. Here’s the Golden Rule:

If the first single is the first track, the album is a dud.

The corollary: if the first single is not the first track, the album is great.

Few albums have broken this rule. Off the top of my head: Nirvana’s Nevermind. Garbage’s first album. Umm.. sure you’ll have some more. In general, though, it’s a rock. There are zillions more confirming examples than confounding ones.

This is why I’ve held back from getting Gwen Stefani’s Love Angel Music Baby. The first single (“What You Waiting For”) is a storming track, but it’s the first in the track listing. The second single (“Rich Girl”) was the second track, and was very so-so. The third track is the third single and sounds OK.

But in general, that’s how this works.

Winn Schwartau: mad as hell, bad as hell, or just concluding Windows is dangerous to know?

Hmm, it seems Winn Schwartau has switched “his company” from Windows machine(s) to Apple’s Macs. He did this because, he says, “I am coming to subscribe to the view that indeed, the WinTel hegemony is a threat to the national economic security of any organization or nation-state that relies up it.” (I think he means on it, but anyhow.)

There’s a longer, more detailed version at Network World. In that, he comments:

I want my computer to function every time I turn it on. I want my computer to not corrupt data when it does crash. I use a handful of applications: Microsoft Office, e-mail, browser, FTP client and some multimedia toys. Regardless of format, they should work without crashing.

I live on the ‘Net. I do not want my browser to eat up all of my memory. In the WinTel world I need an assortment of third-party tools to try to keep my PC alive. That’s just crazy.

Mm. Paul Thurrott has some vague rebuttals, though none to the last point there, about needing the third-party tools to keep the PC alive (antispyware, antivirus, anyone?). And it’s really not true to say that Mac OSX is “aimed at technical users”. That’s really untrue. In fact, Apple has an interesting new introduction to using its modern Macs, called Mac 101, which is a nicely-pitched explanation of the system for novice users who don’t need, or want, ever to crack a bash shell.

Though I can tell Winn – who I’m pretty sure I’ve met, but can’t remember whether he’s the one with the reasonable outlook on computer security, or the overblown one – that changing to the Mac isn’t going necessarily to mean he’ll avoid memory-gobbling browsers. And I have known apps to crash.

Still, most things go very well. My wife’s iBook is now on an uptime (ie time since last reboot) of about 90 days. I think you could call that stability.

(Endnote: you can bet that this article of Schwartau’s will be one of the most-linked-to on the Net within a matter of hours. Network World will be delighted.)

My Independent column..

Yes, I know, hasn’t appeared for three weeks.

Apparently this is due to lack of space.

I had written about the PalmOne LifeDrive, and what I think it – and the whole PalmOne lineup – implies for Palm, to appear today. Events such as David Nagel’s resignation as CEO of PalmSource (which writes the operating system, rather than making hardware as PalmOne does) just adds weight to what I’d been thinking.

I’ll have another look and see if I can’t just put the article up here.

In the meantime, links to LifeDrive articles/review (of which I think Stephen Wildstrom’s is the most perceptive – the lack of a keyboard is a huge miss nowadays).

I’ll just buy this… used library book via Amazon.. uh?

Have been recommended to buy “A Language for Ben” by Lorraine Fletcher, who has a profoundly deaf son, Ben. (Snap! Apart from the name.)

Out of print, but you can find it on Amazon UK with a little searching.

Mmm.. let’s see.. “ Comments: – Former library book with usual stamps, protected cover“. For £13.50.

Wait a minute, you’re selling me a library book – something that taxpayers paid for, which is meant to live in a library, which has stamps in it no doubt saying what library it belongs to, which could then be made available for loan through the country’s library lending scheme for free because we pay council tax?

Colour me unimpressed, unless someone can come up with some reasons why a reseller might be happily selling an ex-library book. (OK, the library might have sold it off. Can we get a guarantee? I fret about the karma.)