Skip to: site navigation/presentation
Skip to: Thoughts From Eric

Archive: 'Mac' Category

Exceeding Expectations

When I praised Apple yesterday for their repair service, I didn’t realize just how much praise was due.  I was so excited to get my laptop back with working hinges, I hadn’t looked closely at the rest of the exterior.  As TiBook owners know, the finish has a tendency to scratch.  I’m not sure why that is, although I’m sure a Google search could yield all manner of answer, but the upshot is that the back of the display panel had a few nicks and dings; even a small dimple that prompted someone to ask if the laptop had stopped a bullet for me.

Now it doesn’t.  The unknown technician replaced not only the hinges, but also the whole panel backing… and maybe even the whole display panel, screen and all.  Now the machine looks as sharp and smooth as the day I bought it.

Let me be clear: those scrapes had nothing to do with the hinge problem.  They were the result of “normal wear and tear.”  There was absolutely no obligation on Apple’s part to do anything about them, any more than it would be Dell’s responsibility to replace a plastic surface on a Windows laptop that had gotten a scratch after half a year of ownership.  While fixing the major problem, the unknown technician noticed that there was something else that could be fixed, and just went ahead and did it.  No fuss.  It wasn’t even noted on my repair history.  It was just done.

I’ve never been sorry to buy Apple products.  Now I’m actually proud to be a customer.

As a postscript, I’d like to point out that mine is an older-model Powerbook.  The new ones have a much more scratch-resistant surface, and a totally different hinge system.  On the new ones, there’s a single large and sturdy hinge that runs most of the width of the machine, occupying about the same amount of space as the gap between my hinges.  They have other improvements too, like a backlit keyboard and ports on the sides instead of in the back, and I wish I could have waited another two months to buy my laptop so I’d have one of the new ones.  Nothing wrong with mine—the new ones are just cooler.

For those of you using an RSS aggregator, you’re probably going to see all of my entries turn up as new a few more times.  I’m adjusting the way I produce the feeds to include an indication of the post length and the categories to which the post belongs as text at the end of the feed description.  I may also modify it to include the first sentence of each paragraph instead of just the first sentence of the entire post.

Incidentally, a few of you have asked why I don’t provide the complete post content in my feeds.  For me, it’s a bandwidth issue.  I was looking over the access statistics for January, and was astonished to find that the two RSS feeds together were accessed over 189,000 times.  The home page, by comparison, was hit over 53,000 times.  The latter accounts for 9.3% of the outgoing bandwidth; the two feeds together add up to 1.54%.  If I were to have the feeds contain full posts, that would increase RSS-feed bandwidth by an order of magnitude at least.  It would also reduce the number of 304 (Not Modified) responses the server returns for the RSS files, because I do go back and correct spelling errors and such.  The feeds don’t have to be updated when I do, but they would if I provided full post content.

I do have sympathy for those of you using aggregators like NetNewsWire (I’m using the Lite version, myself) and FeedDemon.  I’d have more sympathy for LiveJournal users if the LJ server returned 304s, but it never does, forcing me to download the whole feed every time I ask for updates.  So I did consider the syndication experience from the user’s point of view.  I also have to consider the impact on the server, and frankly, given the way RSS is designed, the potential impact is just too high for me to move to full-content feeds.

So now you know.


Ordinarily, you’d think that an almost weeklong absence indicates a major project, or maybe an illness, or some other major life event.  Not this time.  This time it was a major computer hardware failure.  Not a hard drive, nor a monitor, nor anything you might usually suspect.  No, this was far more basic.

Not too long after I posted the previous entry, I was working on my TiBook in the living room.  Kat asked me to get something—probably a milk blanket or a pacifier or something baby related—and so I put the laptop, still open, down on the ottoman.

There was a sharp cracking sound.

As it turned out, it had actually been two cracking sounds.  Both hinges that connect the laptop’s display panel to the body had snapped clean away from the panel.  A broken display hinge on a 15-inch TiBook Longtime readers may recall I had a similar experience about this time last year while in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Apparently that wasn’t some bizarre and isolated incident.  In both cases, I had let go of the laptop panel when it was an inch or two above a well-padded surface.  In both cases, something had given way.  Amazingly, in both cases the laptop screen continued to function.  The extra problem with this latest breakage was that since both hinges had failed, there was nothing to hold up the screen.

Luckily, a few months back an Apple Store opened up in a new mall about five miles from my house.  I’d been meaning to get up there and check it out; last Wednesday, I finally did.  I would have preferred better circumstances, obviously.  So I took my broken laptop to the Genius Bar.  As I opened it up and laid it flatter than a TiBook should really ever be, a guy standing nearby said, “Gosh, I’ve always wished I could open my PowerBook up that far.”

“I can show you how,” I said with an arched eyebrow.  He declined the offer.

So after looking over the whole machine and hearing my description of how it had happened, the Genius’ guess was that the hinges had been over-torqued.  They had been rather stiff ever since I got the machine, actually; it was almost impossible to open the laptop with one hand.  So Alan (the Genius) made some notes to the effect that it was a hardware failure, and not the result of abuse, and that it was a covered repair.  I changed the administrator password so they could get to the desktop if need be, shut down the system, and then handed the machine over to be shipped to a repair center.

It arrived back at the Apple Store today.  That’s five days to ship, repair, and return.  It’s one more day than the last time, but there was a weekend involved.  The new hinges are a lot smoother than the old ones, too.  I’m once more impressed by the speed and service Apple provides.  So thanks to Alan at the Genius Bar, to the unknown technician who repaired my poor baby’s spine, and to Apple for continuing to make me glad I’m a customer.  Of course I’d rather the laptop had never had any problems, but there will always be problems.  The mark of a good company is that they address those inevitable problems professionally and with a minimum of hassle for the customer.  As far as I’m concerned, that describes Apple in full.

Love, Feline Style

Ever since the day after Carolyn came home, our cat Gravity has mostly ignored Carolyn’s presence.  We’d been somewhat concerned that there would be hostility between them in the months to come, which wouldn’t really end well because Gravity still has claws.  Those concerns are now, for the most part, erased.  This afternoon, we discovered that not only has Gravity gotten used to Carolyn’s presence, but now regards her as a part of the family.

We know this because Gravity left Carolyn a gift—a freshly killed mouse, lying on the floor right next to the bassinet where Carolyn sleeps during the day.  A small mouse carcass lies on the floor next to the bassinet.  From what I understand, this is typically how mother-cats feed their children, and start training them to hunt for their own food.  I wished there were some way to communicate to Gravity that she could have her hunting spoils back, since Carolyn’s fairly well fed even without rodent supplements.  When you think about all this, it’s really rather touching, in a morbid way.  Kat and I both got a pretty good laugh out of it.

Of course, then I had to dispose of the carcass.

So Safari 1.2 is out, and of course was released just two days after I changed designs.  So the fix for the first-letter bug that occurred with “Thoughts From Eric” in the previous design is in place, but you can’t see it working here.  On the other hand, my recently constructed test page demonstrating Safari 1.1’s bugs with :hover and generated content show that 1.2 fixed the problem.  So, that’s cool.

What is even cooler is John Gruber’s in-depth exploration of the OmniWeb beta.  The “tabbed” interface, although not what I personally think of as tabbed, is still a welcome addition; I’ve found that I basically can’t live without tabs.  (I do a sweep of all my regularly read blogs by opening them all in tabs, via a bookmark group.)  What sounds really outstanding, though, is OmniWeb’s workspaces and site-specific preferences.  It’s probably enough for me to tolerate the obsolescence of the rendering engine, which is equivalent to Safari 1.0, but we’ll see.  You should see, too—go read John’s review of the browser, which is comprehensive and detailed.  Truly excellent.

Complete topic shift: back in September, Molly was aghast at the Quizno’s television commercial featuring an adult male human suckling at the teat of a wolf.  Well, their new ad campaign has launched, and if anything it’s more wrong.  Sure, it’s a complete ripoff of the Spongmonkeys, mostly because it turns out the same guy did bothWarning: if you follow the Spongmonkeys link, I am not responsible for any psychological damage you may suffer, but it is very much like the commercial.

Is it just me, or are commercials in general getting a lot weirder of late?

Fractional Styles

At the Web Design Meetup last week, Warren expressed annoyance that there are a limited number of fraction character entities.  I pointed out that you can use MathML to represent any fraction you like, but of course it requires a browser that supports MathML.  Those are kind of rare.

So absent MathML, it’s easy to get a nice presentation of, say, one quarter (¼, a.k.a. character entity ¼), but how do you get a similarly nice rendering of thirteen thirty-seconds?  As it turns out, you can at least get close with a bit of structural massaging.  (That sounds so much better than “structural hacking,” doesn’t it?)  Here’s what I came up with:

span.frac sup, span.frac sub {font-size: 75%;
  vertical-align: baseline;
  position: relative;}
span.frac sup {top: -0.5em; left: 0.15em;}
span.frac sub {left: -0.15em;}

17 <span class="frac"><sup>13</sup><b>/</b><sub>32</sub></span>

That results in the following, which I recreated using inline styles just to make life easier when I archive this post:

17 13/32

Not too bad, at least in Safari, Mozilla, and IE5/Mac, but not great.  In his own efforts along these lines, Warren uncovered the fraction-slash character entity (&#8260;), which could help improve the result.  I also notice that my numbers are bigger than the numbers in the original entity.  So I adjusted my styles, with the following result.

span.frac sup, span.frac sub {font-size: 60%;
  font-weight: bold;
  vertical-align: baseline;
  position: relative;}
span.frac sup {top: -0.5em; left: 0.1em;}

17 1332

So let’s compare the one-quarter entity to the styled version.

¼   14

There are font-family differences, I admit, but they’re pretty close to each other in the browsers I mentioned before.

The problem, really, is the markup involved, but I don’t see how one can really reduce it any further.  MathML’s representation of fractions isn’t noticeably less weighty, really, not even counting possibly required namespacing, which I’m not going to include here:


I suppose that if I wanted to show arbitrary fractions a lot, I could represent them in MathML and then transform the math markup into HTML before delivering it to browsers.  I don’t have a lot of need for such fractions, at least not so far, but it was an interesting exercise.

Now for a little cleanup with regard to previous posts.

  • Chuq pointed out that iLife was never totally free, but that Apple was allowing updates to old versions at no cost.  In my case, iLife appeared to be free because it came installed on my OS X laptop, so I never overtly surrendered money for the product.  I suppose the cost is somehow built into the cost of the operating system.  Regardless, I still think that there was a bit of baiting and switching in letting people download major upgrades at no cost and then closing the gate.  I guess what I want is consistency; I didn’t realize I was benefitting from lax license enforcement, if that’s what it was.  I thought Apple was just making decent tools available for free to Mac users in order to draw more people to the Mac.  That would make some business sense, even if it isn’t what they were doing.  After all, I haven’t heard any plans to charge for upgrades to iTunes, and I don’t expect that I will.  Apple may be many things, but grossly stupid isn’t generally one of them.

    At any rate, I’d still be interested in paying for just an iPhoto upgrade, especially since I looked at some programs readers e-mailed me to suggest, and they were all either not what I wanted, or too darned expensive.  I imagine there are people who would pay to download GarageBand as a standalone, for example.

  • It turns out that there are a number of demonstrations of using behaviors to get PNG transparency in IE/Win.  Here are a few that people sent me:

    I’m sure there must be others.  Google could tell me, but I feel overloaded already.

Carolyn turns six weeks old tomorrow.  I’ll have to find a good picture to post, especially since so many people have asked for them.  She’ll get her own page sooner or later, but I’ve had other and much more pressing things on my plate.  As long as I have it ready by the time she wants to start blogging…

iRant, But Not Too Much

From my point of view, the biggest news from Steve Jobs’ keynote this morning was the announcement of iLife.  More specifically, it was the new version of iPhoto, which I’d really been hoping would be announced.  And so it was.  It’s much faster, more capable, enables photo sharing with Rendezvous—just about everything I’d hoped would happen.  Unfortunately, it also came with something I hadn’t expected: a price tag.

I have no problems with Apple charging money for a piece of software.  What bothers me is the practice of releasing it for free and then, without warning, bundling it into a commercial suite.  If they’d charged for it all along, that would be fine.  If we’d known ahead of time that it would be free until Apple felt it was a product worth selling, at which time it would stop being free, fine.  But that was never made clear, if it was even mentioned at all, and I find that annoying.

Further exacerbating the problem is that of the five iLife components, I have use for only two of them, iPhoto and iTunes, and the former of them is (for the moment) free.  iDvd, iMovie, and Garage Band are completely useless to me as I have neither a video camera nor a garage band.  So if I really want iPhoto 4, I have to pay $49 for it and a bunch of unnecessary code.  That doesn’t make sense to me.  Hopefully, Apple will offer the iLife components separately, so that I could pay $9.99 for iPhoto and ignore the rest.  Or, better still, they’ll release an update to the free iPhoto that fixes the sluggishness but doesn’t include the other cool stuff in the commercial version.

Alternatively, I could hunt for a freeware replacement to iPhoto.  At least one colleague has asked me why I use iPhoto at all, given its slowness and the bloated data files and directory structures it creates.  The thing is, I really like the way iPhoto allows you to modify photos while preserving the originals, and the way album organization is handled.  The transition effect in the slideshows is pretty nifty, too.  In general, the whole iPhoto interface and feature set works pretty well for me—it’s just the lack of speed that’s a problem.  Well, that and the lack of smoothly resized exports, but I’ve complained about that in the past.  If I could find something equivalent to iPhoto, or at least darned close to it, I’d probably switch.  If no such application exists, then I’d love to see some open-source coders get together and create one.  Any takers?

Now That’s A Switch

From macosxhints, via xlab: how to restore Mac OS X to a little more sanity in the form of switching the keyboard shortcuts for “New Folder” and “New Finder Window.”  Contrary to the tip’s assertion, you will need to restart the Finder for the change to take effect, but it does indeed work.  Also, since the tip is somewhat ambiguous about what you should have in your file when you’re done, here’s what I have:

	<key>New Finder Window</key>
	<key>New Folder</key>

Those seven simple lines are all it took to remove one of my last major complaints about OS X: now I can hit cmd-N and get a new folder instead of a new Finder window.  I shed a tear of joy.  All I have to do is figure out what to hack so all of my new windows open in minimized List view, and I’ll be pretty much golden.

(As I also discovered, you can alter your shortcuts with TinkerTool‘s “Menu Shortcuts” panel, but I prefer directly hacking the OS.  It makes me feel all tough and manly.)

Now for a tear or two of sorrow.  Thanks to Jeffrey Zeldman, I went and read the New Yorker article about post-conflict Iraq, “War After the War.”  I’m pointing to the printer-friendly version, which should be a lot easier on the eyes than the narrow-column main article.  It’s a disturbing, disheartening piece that will likely not go over well with many in the right wing of the audience, but not because it’s slanted left.  It isn’t.  It’s a factual, first-hand report of what’s going on, in detail and from the mouths of soldiers and diplomats, in Iraq.  Some of those mouths are already stilled forever.

The personal downside is that, if you read the article all the way through—and it’s a long, involved piece, so don’t expect to rip through it in five minutes—you may have the same reaction I did, which is an almost overwhelming mixture of sorrow, anger, frustration, and helplessness.  Even worse, I’m not sure anything can be done at this point; even replacing the current administration would likely be too little, too late… and that assumes that the Democrats put up someone I would regard as a better choice than Bush, which is by no means assured.

Meanwhile, the sister-in-law of a friend of ours just got shipped to Iraq on almost no advance notice.  This person is a member of a National Guard unit that was classified “non-deployable.”  Whether or not such a distinction should exist, apparently it did.  Now the unit is being deployed, the very thing she was told would never happen, which is the only reason she decided to enlist; she has a husband and three children that she had no intention of leaving even temporarily.  When I hear such things, it makes me wonder if maybe the news from Iraq is more positive than the situation warrants.  Why else would the military choose to deploy a “non-deployable” unit?  That’s the sort of act I associate with desperation.

Panther Patter

Thanks to those of you who wrote in with the answer to my Dock question.  It turns out that I’d been trying to drag folders into the same Dock region that holds my application entries, and that’s no good.  Folders can be added in the area where the Trash can, minimized windows, and running applications not already in the Dock sit.  It hadn’t even occurred to me to try to add them there, because that’s where active stuff (and the Trash) goes.  Static links to resources go in the other area, as far as I’m concerned.  Just another little shove toward jettisoning the Dock and registering DragThing.

As for iPhoto plug-ins, I did find BetterHTMLExport pretty quickly, and the 2.0 version has exactly what I want—and about ten times that in stuff I won’t ever need.  If I were creating galleries, it would be a godsend.  I’d register it.  But all I really want is a plugin that lets me set the size and image quality of exported JPEGs, and that then exports them with smooth scaling instead of the jagged scaling iPhoto uses.  Frankly, iPhoto should do all this without needing a plug-in, but it doesn’t.  This seems like a simple little widget, one that could be created quickly and released as freeware.  Anyone have any leads on one that exists, or interest in creating such a tool?  Heck, point me at a good beginner’s resource on how to analyze and create iPhoto plug-ins and I could take a swing at it myself.  In my copious spare time, of course.

Panther’s been pretty cool so far—it certainly feels much snappier than Jaguar did—although there are (as always) things that annoy me.  The behavior of drag-selecting in the List view changed, and not for the better.  The reintroduction of labels (and where were they until now?) is nice, but I would have preferred a better presentation of them in OS.  Then again, Exposé thoroughly rocks not just the house, but the neighbor’s houses as well.  The fact that I can shuffle just those windows associated with the current application is just too darned awesome.  Exposé also revealed that Mozilla-based browsers create a small hidden window offscreen, one that you can’t really access but is still there.  It comes zooming in from the upper left when you invoke Exposé, and zips away when you un-expose everything.  I wonder what it’s doing.

In case you didn’t see this pointed out elsewhere, the main page (at least) of the Sprint PCS site is an XHTML+CSS layout now.  One of these days I’m going to have to compile a list.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

In rummaging through my pictures from last weekend’s trip to San Francisco, I came across another picture I just had to share: the laundry machines where Jeff Veen‘s clothes get washed and dried!  A pair of top-loading washing machines sit to the far left, a pair of front-loaders sit in the middle, and a stacked pair of front-loading dryers can be seen on the right.  They actually don't look like they're any different than normal washing machines.They seemed bigger than normal machines, somehow.  As if they were mighty colossi of laundry machines, towering over the cleanliness landscape and emitting peals of spin-cycle sounds that shake the skies like thunder.

Then again, I could just be projecting.

So what’s with all the pictures all of a sudden?  Partly it’s me messing around with the export features in iPhoto, which are frankly not the greatest.  It generated tons of “jaggies,” and in JPEG images, no less.  I need to find some tools that do a better job, or at least some decent plug-ins for iPhoto.  I think I said that some time back.  It’s more true now than it was then.  (Speaking of which, is there a trick to adding folders to the Dock?  I can’t seem to figure it out.)

Over the past few days I’ve run into two very familiar forms of grumbling:

  • XHTML is bogus because it’s so much pickier than good old HTML.
  • CSS layout is bogus because it can’t do everything possible in table-based layout.

These aren’t new complaints, by any stretch.  Heck, I myself whined long and loud about how XHTML forced everything to be lowercase—I called it “xhtml” for the longest time—and those trailing slashes looked stupid.  Over time, I realized those were silly reasons to dislike a language, especially since HTML is still around and quite available.  (What’s this site authored in?  Hmmm…)  I realized I was ambivalent toward XHTML not because it was pickier, but because it was a reformulation of HTML in XML.  That was exactly its point, and while I could see some utility in that effort, I thought (and still think) it a mistake to abandon all further work on HTML and push forward with XHTML.  I couldn’t come to that conclusion, however, until I stopped carping about things being different and took the time to understand why things were different.

As for CSS-P, of course it has limitations.  So does table-based layout.  The question is which set of limitations you’re willing to accept, and conversely which features are more important to your current project.  I still fail to understand why people have to treat everything as being a binary situation.  It’s not a question of only using tables, or only using CSS, for layout, forever and ever amen.  Some projects do well with one, some with the other, and some call for both in the same layout.  I don’t know how many times I’ve said this over the years, but I guess I’m saying it again.

And if you object to something simply because it’s new and doesn’t act like the stuff you already know, take it from me: that form of resistance isn’t going to work for long.  If you can’t deal with change, you’re on the wrong planet, and if you’re a Web developer/designer then you’re really in the wrong line of work.  Things will always change, whether it’s due to new browsers or new standards or new critical patches from Microsoft or just plain new thinking.  Your best bet is to learn as much as you can so that you can make the best possible decisions about what to do, and why.

October 2017