Time Spent With Lion

Things I like

  • Auto-popup of authentication sheets at public wifi hotspots like Starbucks works great.
  • Love the new spelling correction hints that let you see what it wants to do before autocorrecting it – giving you a chance to say no.
  • Love the fact that you can now hold down a key to get the tilde/umlaut/whatever accent marks.
  • Mission Control allows me to find windows that are open a little faster due to grouping by App than expose
  • I love that Safari auto-restores, and Pages, and Textedit, and…
  • Fast launches
  • Versions of previous pages
  • Apps conforming to the new document standard don’t force me to save before dragging into Mail App, etc.
  • For the same apps, not having to worry about saving the stuff I’m working on when I close the program. It gets saved as I’m working on it too. 
  • Call me nuts but I actually like the new three-column layout in Mail.
  • You can search by multiple terms within Mail, etc.
  • Seeing battery status, etc. on the login screen.
  • PDF annotation. Not just “signature” graphics, but actual text entry, etc. even on PDF’s that are not pre-configured as forms (for an example of the latter, download your typical IRS tax form as PDF).

Things I dislike

  • Effectively borked the minimize-to-app in Mission Control
  • Using “Duplicate” instead of “Save as” can be a bit unexpected at first.
  • The “hold key” behavior does mess up people who like repeat keys enabled.
  • Why did you cripple digital color meter?
  • The “real life” look of the address book and iCal is a bit much, but I can deal with it.

When do You Have to Buy Office?

One tool that no computer should be without is the one we typically
call an “Office suite” – a collection of programs to manipulate words,
numbers, and data so that we can present that information to other
people. Microsoft Word, Excel, Access, Powerpoint, and Outlook are the
gold standard for this. For years, companies spent hundreds of dollars
for each copy – and frankly, many pirated copies – because they were
the de-facto standard if you wanted to send files to someone else and
have them be understood.

Office has withstood the onslought of Adobe’s PDF standard, because
you cannot easily edit spreadsheets and text documents once they are
PDF files. Despite the foothold in the law community, Wordperfect is
effectively an also-ran.

Yet, there are alternatives. On the Mac side, there is Apple’s iWork
suite and the OpenOffice – based NeoOffice. For mac, Linux, and Windows, Open Office and Libre Offic all try to capture the
breadth of features and feel of Microsofts 800-lb gorilla. For most
people, they succeed admirably, and given how well most convert
documents in and out of the MS Office formats, there is little need
for most people to buy a copy from Microsoft.

So why in this environment should anyone go out and pay good money for a suite that comes from Microsoft?


Google is making significant headway with its powerful online mail, document, and calendar sharing services. Nevertheless, it doesn’t quite meet the power and flexibility – or cost, complexity, etc. – of an Exchange server, especially when it comes to shared contacts. Exchange is completely integrated with Outlook, and nothing else quite works so well for the people who need those features.


Office provides several ways for other programs to communicate with them. A number of programs – especially business or industry-specific ones, use these to create emails or documents from scratch including word processing and spreadsheet documents. Unfortunately, in this case, no combination of Open Office, Thunderbird, etc. are going to quite do the job.


Other office suites currently are very capable when exporting to or importing from the Microsoft document formats. Minor variations in formatting can creep up between different versions of the Microsoft suite (2003, 2007, Mac) as well. Nevertheless, when formatting fidelity, etc. is a must, the results are much better if you stick to the same software all around instead of converting between completely different document formats.

Your boss/school/etc. Told You to.

You can argue that “Exchange” or “Compatibility” also qualifies here, but if your boss, company, or school says to use office, well, then that’s what you do.

In short

If no-one is forcing you. If you don’t need complete integration with an Exchange server. If you don’t need as close to perfect compatibility as possible with other MS Office users, or use software that requires Office to use all of its features, you may want to consider the cheap or free alternatives available to you. Otherwise, well, you need to bite the bullet and go get a copy of MS Office.

Lion: Smooth Sailing With a Few Waves

I’d been putting together some thoughts on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. when Lion was released. Obvioulsy, I immediately installed it – I can afford to. I have backups. Lots of backups.

So what is there to say that hasn’t already been said?

First, some high points. In case you’ve never been bitten by this, never, ever, ever upgrade a business-critical computer until the software you need is updated to work with it. Ever. That especially applies to niche software like architectural CAD software, or if you make a living as a graphic designer.

Also, “rosetta” – the technology that allows Macs to run older programs depending on “PowerPC” chips, is no longer available, at all. This especially hurts those who use products like Quicken for the Mac  (Intuit, along with Adobe, is another company that seems to think that adapting to long-announced changes and providing current product updates is just passe). Also, Mac versions of MS Office before Office 2008 will not be usable without an update or switching to iWork or Open Office/Libre Office.

Please note – if you are using Quicken for the Mac, please export your file as a backup before upgrading OS X.

So now what?

Well, I’m not every user. I make my living helping other users. That said, many of the programs I use are the ones I recommend to others.

 The Install

Straightforward. Buy the app, let it download, let the installer run. Wait 30 minutes or so after that, and a new splash page appears with your login.

The first thing I checked, as with every major update since 10.5 completely reset the printer settings, was to verify my printers were still there. Yes they were, and yes they worked. Also, the 10.7 update didn’t scrub my custom keyboard shortcut for  printing PDF’s (originally at OSX hints).

 Personal Information and Mail

I started up the new Mail app, and ended up waiting quite a while for it to update the mail database to the new format. In the meantime, I opened up my google account in Safari, and discovered a new wrinkle. When logging in to at least several services that Lion recognizes using Safari (I can verify this for Gmail and MobileMe), Safari helpfully asks of you wish to add the account to your mail and calendars. Since those accounts were already in Mail.app (which was updating) I simply said no thanks, but it’s a nice touch that goes hand-in-hand with automatically opening up the login sheets at many public WiFi hotspots.

Once the mail had finally updated, I looked in the system preferences. Oddly, even though the soon-to-be-obsolete MobileMe control panel listed that I was syncing my contacts, the (new) unified “Mail, Contacts, & Calendars” account panel showed my Mobileme account as only synchronizing calendar items, mail , and chat items.

Yes, chat items. I’m not sure where that will lead just yet.

Either way, my contacts do sync.

Looking into my address book, I discovered that Address book was no longer syncing with Gmail. I fixed that, and after a few rounds of discrepancy reviews, had my contacts under control again.


I’m still torn on the scroll direction reversal. I will say that it’s actually fairly natural when scrolling via a trackpad.

That said, the hiding scrollbars were driving me nuts. I need to know where I am in the document, and the default setting to hide them when not scrolling can make it difficult to tell if there is anything further to scroll to.


Despite the dire warnings at the beginning of this post, very little broke.  The following third-party apps worked without any apparent hitches:


  • Hazel – an automated folder cleanup tool.
  • Both of my password programs – 1Password and Little Secrets – worked fine.
  • DropBox
  • BBEdit – text editor
  • Candybar – custom icons.
  • Chrome
  • iStumbler seems to work
  • LibreOffice
  • Kindle
  • MailPluginManager seems to work
  • Notational Velocity a text note taker that works with simplenote
  • Google music manager
  • Picasa picture manager
  • Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection 2
  • Steam seems to work – but I havent tried to play any games yet
  • VLC – video player for flash and WMV videos
The following programs needed or had a Lion specific update that hadn’t yet been installed:
  • Xcode – New copy currently free
  • Homebrew – a system for installing linux utilities. Installed apps actually work, but you need to isntall the updated Xcode to add anything else.
  • Firefox 5 had an update when I opened it, but didn’t like my 1Password plugin.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner – excellent bootable disk backup system.
  • iStumbler – for finding WiFi networks
  • I updated Silverlight just in case
  • Scrivener has an update for Lion specific features
  • VMWare Fusion – this virtual PC emulator installed updates
  • Mail Act-On – a mail management plugin for the Apple Mail app, needed a reinstall.
Then a had a few issues that needed more work:
  • Pixelmator (a lightweight, awesome, and cheap image editor) had an issue – but an App Store update is coming soon to resolve it, and there are workarounds to get it running.
  • All of my Emacs (another text editor that works on different platforms) customizations and add-ons will have to be rebuilt, but the version I installed through Brew, as well as my GUI-based copy, both work fine at the default settings.
Lastly were the programs that flat out didn’t work:
  • Pocket Tanks – an “artillery” game knockoff.

All’s well that ends well.

Overall, it was a very smooth update. While there are a few things that are known to break, very little broke unexpectedly, and I’ve now had enough exposure to this to start getting really comfortable. Many apps did not need updates at all, though a number of the ones that didn’t need post-upgrade updates had already been updated in the recent past to be compatible with Lion.

Ha Ha Only Serious…

There’s an expression in the geek community, “ha ha, only serious,” that tells the listener that the previous parody, joke, etc., may have been intended to be humorous, but also includes a large degree of truth. 

This comes up because I was explaining to a friend a large part of why “Like a D6” (that I mentioned earlier in Parody) was funny. For a lot of gaming geeks, hanging out around a table playing D&D, wargames, boardgames, etc., is just as fun and looked forward to just as much as a “good time” (if not more so) as hanging out in a club with friends and dancing, etc.


Here’s one on the lighter side. A bunch of gamers got together and made a short video spoof of the Far East Movement song “Like a G6,” but revolving around a D&D theme. Basically, if you’re a gamer of any sort, or live with someone who plays Dungeons & Dragons (or any other RPG for that matter), you’ll get why this is funny.

First of all, thanks to the guys at the D6 Generation for mentioning it. Also, yes, the song is available on iTunes.

Customer Service, or, Reality vs. Virtual Reality

Oddly, as a consultant, I do NOT adhere to the policy that the
customer is always right. That said, you cut the customer a lot of
slack, and you don’t prevent customers doing something eminently

Enter ebay. It turns out that – reasonably enough, though they
don’t make it clear in advance – that they limit the number of big,
expensive, or particularly brand-conscious items that can be sold at
any time by a new seller. This limit varies depending on both whim and
the particular item being sold.

In practical terms, I can only list items like my older MacBook Pro that I’m
trying to sell once every 30 days, and I can only list one such item
at a time.

While it’s a bit wonky that I have to wait a month to re-list my
laptop if it doesn’t sell, that at least is somewhat reasonable. It’s
when you actually try to revise your listings that the real shock

You see, a revised entry is treated, temporarily, as if it is an
additional entry. If your item limit is one, you cannot revise your
entry. You cannot add pictures, you cannot edit the description, you
cannot do a single thing to change it. You start with one entry, you
end with one entry, for the same physical item that does not magically
duplicate itself no matter how ebay’s system sees it, but you cannot
revise it because they treat it as a new item.

If I remove it from sale, I can’t relist it for another month. if it
doesn’t sell because I wasn’t able to add more relevant information, I
can’t relist it for another month.

The kicker is that no one in their right mind considers revising an
existing item to be the same as adding a new item

So I’d like to follow ebay’s guidelines for professionalism. I’d
like to add pictures. I’d like to revise the description to be
more informative and accurate – and thus useful to buyers.

And because of a stupid decision in how to handle revisions to
existing objects that flies in the face of reality, I cannot.

iOS5 – Undervalued Changes

Looking through Apple’s page on iOS5 and its new features, many of them are being covered by the tech press, especially the new notifications (sorely needed). There are a few that have received scant attention, and yet I know will personally benefit me or people I directly know a lot. 

Calendar is expanding the available views so that the iPhone/iPod Touch version will now allow a week view. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve waited until I could open up iCal on my laptop in order to see the week at a glance.

Mail will now allow formatting, including bold, italics, and (most importantly for several people I know) indenting. My favorite new mail features are the ability to drag to arrange addresses, and the ability to manage folders.

Lastly, with an appleTV, the iPad2 can now be mirrored directly onto an HDTV over wifi.

There was not the classic “Steve” version of “One more thing”, but one new feature that has seen some mention in the press feels incomplete to me. There are also some things people were hoping for that were NOT announced.

There is a new messaging system built into iOS5 to supplement/coexist with MMS/SMS, but available to any iOS device even if not a cellular data plan – such as iPod Touches. I’m willing to be that like facetime, this is a feature that will be added to or made available to the Mac OS in Lion.

There have also been people talking about how movie streaming and a new AppleTV were not mentioned. My only reply is: All in good time. Apple is not positioning these things against Netflix, but once this infrastructure gets put in place, then movie streaming is such a no-brainer in terms of desirability that I’m sure we will see it.

One must remember – Apple no longer does annual announcements at MacWorld, etc. I suspect it’s because that lets them announce what features they want to, when they are good and ready to unleash something new.

Gamer Origin Stories

I often listen to a gaming-oriented podcast called “The D6 Generation,” focusing on board and miniature games. Most episodes include an interview with a member of the game design community, and a question often asked at the beginning of the interview is to describe their gamer “Origin Story” – or how they became a gamer.

So how did I get into this hobby in the first place? For most gamers my age, it usually starts at Dungeons & Dragons, but actually, it started even earlier than that with regular straight-up wargames.

My first wargame I ever bought with my own money was a copy of Starship Troopers by Avalon Hill.  I’m still not sure precisely where I first saw it – it may have been at the the Navy Exchange’s “toy” department. Perhaps it was the local hobby shop where I started looking for models more varied than the standard department-store airplane kits. It sure as heck wasn’t the standard Kmart, Sears, or JC Penny’s.

A long-time Heinlein fan even at the age of eleven, I was hooked. I started looking at other games. Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for any hope of sanity on the part of my parents), the husband of the couple that provided before-school care for us while my parents worked – the D.C. commute was a stone cold b*tch even then – was a wargamer and had a rather nice collection of AH games.. I lost a lot of time there playing Afrika Korps, Dune, and other games.

It wasn’t until we started staying over at a friends place after school in 5th or 6th grade that I first saw a copy of Dungeons & Dragons – a “box” set intended to get a foothold in toy and game stores – and promptly bought my own.

I started paying more attention to the weird books in “that” corner of the hobby shop. Sooner, rather than later, several friends and I had a fairly complete set of D&D books: the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Monster Manual, and a number of modules. We also started looking at related stuff like Gamma World for post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi role playing, also by TSR.

Then I stumbled into a copy of The Traveller Book, a compilation of the first three manuals for the spacefaring RPG Traveller.

It was like finding home. I loved D&D – played it quite a bit through high school, but I’d spend hours going through the Traveller rules – especially the rather unique spaceship combat system (that used real newtonian mechanics!)

I’d also picked up a few more games – as I still played wargames. Panzerblitz and Magic Realm were added to my collection. I tried to convince my cousin to get into wargames by buying him a copy of Storm Over Arnhem based on the battle for Arnhem bridge that also inspired the movie “A Bridge Too Far.”

I also received my intro to Steve Jackson Games with the ludicrously fun “Car Wars,” spent a lot of money on Battletech right after it changed from Battledroids, and quite a bit of time in Shadowrun (magic and cyberpunk).

I then needed something with more flexibility, as the ever-changing editions to Traveller were driving me nuts, and I didn’t feel like keeping up. So I tried on GURPS (yeah, I know, I’m now a couple editions behind again, but that’s not bad for a game system I bought fifteen years ago…). While not very scalable and justifiably put down as fiddly, it had a unique character development system that allowed you to tailor your strengths and your weaknesses. It also had the flexibility needed to put out incredible resource books on everything from Vikings to Cthulhu and the far, far future. I ended up writing an article for the Pyramid (SJ’s in-house gaming magazine).

While dabbling in the vampire based games from White-Wolf games, I mostly skipped that as well as Magic: The Gathering, though I did end up getting quite a few cards for SJ’s loony “Illuminati: New World Order” card-based world domination game. The sheer lunacy of having Bjorne the viking dinosaur be the dictatorial ruler of California while running the world via TV advertisements was a sight to behold, and only a hint at the possible craziness in a game where all conspiracy theories could be true. Fasa actually had a very nifty game of armored grav tank combat that unfortunately petered out, but I dearly loved it.

These days, while I still have a few GURPS books, it’s mostly current boardgames, as I don’t have the time to invest in RPG’s. Descent, Survive! Warmachine, Mag Blast, Seven Wonders, etc. take up the majority of my monthly (sometimes bimonthly) playing time. I still have an old copy of Fortress Europa by Avalon Hill.

Reactor Problems in Japan

After the recent quake near Japan and the tsunami that followed have killed thousands, destroyed billions of infrastructure, left many without power or water, destroyed trains, and destroyed oil refineries outright in an inferno worthy of Dresden, we keep hearing about the reactors.

The short answer: yes, it’s a shame. Yes, some people will get some exposure to radiation outside of the plant. Yes, parts of the plant will likely be shut down for good. All in all, the plant suffered an earthquake well in excess of design parameters and has been shut down. The core may slag itself, and some radioactive gases may be vented (and dissipate, and rapidly become non-radioactive ) relative to normal background, but in the end, explosions of the reactor core, or anything like Chernobyl, is just an impossibility.

The long answer is here, from the guys at MIT’s Nuke sciences division.

It is worth mentioning at this point that the nuclear fuel in a reactor can never cause a nuclear explosion like a nuclear bomb. At Chernobyl, the explosion was caused by excessive pressure buildup, hydrogen explosion and rupture of all structures, propelling molten core material into the environment.  Note that Chernobyl did not have a containment structure as a barrier to the environment.

Additionally, Chernobyl was designed so that it got more reactive when it lost water, and the moderating material that made it more reactive was flammable graphite which caught fire.

So please go read the whole thing.