Status Update

Up is down and down is up. That’s the default “natural” setting on my new MacBook Pro’s trackpad. As a long-time Windows and Linux user, I find that this perfectly sums up the entirety of the Apple experience for me thus far.

See below for my Apple and Linux rants for more on my current experience of tech-hell. But first, a run down of why Twitter has started to suck for many people.


I’ve got a ton of stuff in Pocket for reading, perhaps over the weekend, but I don’t have much for you today. But I did really enjoy’s Alan Jacob’s sequence of posts on the state of Twitter, which hits many of my own issues with the Twitter right now, and a few others besides:

I’m not so famous or female that I get inundated with harassment on my timeline, but I do find myself yearning for more granularity in terms of what I see and share.

Many of my friends are nostalgic for Live Journal, which did indeed do a good job of providing that granularity. But I’d hazard a guess that most of us have far more connections on Twitter and Facebook today than we did on LiveJournal in, say, 2005. That makes trying to deal with grouping friends a much more daunting task, especially if you’re starting with a big list of basically everyone you know and need to figure out which groups to put each person in.

Today Google Plus and Facebook offer similar features for publishing posts visible only to only pre-defined groups of people, but I don’t know how widely used they are. And the hassle of trying to categorize a couple-few hundred people into neat groups is a big part of what keeps me from bothering with those features.

Still, if we were able to share stuff on Twitter based on Lists (remember those?), maybe that would be something. Though I’m not sure I’d be willing to spend the time to make a bunch of new lists — I pretty much gave up on that idea back in 2010 or 2011 when Twitter hid that functionality and us worry that it would go away entirely.

Which is another part of the problem: we have no idea which new Facebook or Twitter features will stick around more than a couple months. Why spend time getting used to something when some A/B tester might say “hey, this feature isn’t getting enough traction, let’s hide it to stream line the interface and move those engineering resources elsewhere”?

The indie web can potentially help solve the disappearing feature problem (though most of us will still be at the mercy of what the developers of the software we depend on decide to do). But it could also make granularity more difficult, at least without some widely adopted decentralized authentication system.

(Or we could all just start multiple different e-mail newsletters…)


On brighter note: season 8 of The Trailer Park Boys just hit Netflix!


On a darker note, in a good way: Earth’s new album Primitive and Deadly is out!

Apple Rant

This blog post by Alex Payne explains some of the reasons I ended up buying a Mac instead of another PC laptop, though he writes from the perspective of an ardent Windows hater, which I’m not, and from the perspective of someone switching away from the Apple ecosystem, and not to it.

The other thing is that, if you look at the actual specs on offer, Macs aren’t that much more expensive than PCs any more. The last laptop I bought, an ASUS UL, was about half the price of an equivalently spec’d Macbook. But finding an ultraportable (under four pounds and less than 14″s) with a Haswell processor, eight gigs of RAM and a solid state hard drive cheaper than a refurbished Mac proved difficult. In many cases, the equivalently spec’d machines from Acer, ASUS and Lenovo were more expensive. Most companies are now building what amount to Mac knock-offs that are just as un-upgradable as the MBP, but have shittier hardware that actually costs more. And just buying something with lower specs and upgrading isn’t much of an option either, since so many of this Apple knockoffs solder RAM and make hard drives inaccessible.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad line remains one of the few exceptions, but most of its machines way cost more than their Mac equivalents, and the amount of maintenance you can do yourself is steadily shrinking. Plus you have to deal with Lenovo’s customer support.

So I bit the bullet and bought a Mac, but I’m already thinking of sending it back while I still can.

Part of it’s the UI quirks, though I was able to smooth most of those out with third party apps listed here and here (or in the trackpad’s case, just turning off so-called “natural” scrolling).

But there are other things. For one, I hate the built in keyboard. The keys feel sludgy, sticky. The battery gets scalding hot.

And although the MBP itself was cheaper than a ThinkPad, there are tons of hidden costs. My external monitor won’t work with it, even after I went through this Linux-esque process to try to make it work. The only monitor officially supported is, apparently, its own $1,000 Thunderbold monitor, which, if I’m not mistaken, will only work with Macs. Plus I need a new external keyboard since Macs have their own layout.

Then there’s all the proprietary software I have to buy to either make things work properly (like Witch and Hyperdock), or to replace things that don’t work on Macs (Zim, which only kind of sort of works, and MyLifeOrganized, which works in Wine on Linux but which I’ve not been able to get working on OS X). That means shelling out ~ $40 each for Ulysses and Omnifocus.

So I’m looking at about $1,200 worth of extra stuff to get this $1,200 laptop up to snuff, which I can’t afford right now. That makes a $1,500 or $1,600 ThinkPad look not so bad.*

But the switching cost is one I feel like I’m going to have to make eventually anyway, because Windows is starting to feel a lot like BlackBerry back in 2010. Microsoft is still a big, rich company with millions of users, but the writing is on the wall in terms of developer support. And Linux is no better off.

*I’m also a bit confused about how PCs got so expensive. The ASUS was about $600. It was just under four pounds, had nine hour battery life and was just a little behind the bleeding edge of its time. Today’s “budget” laptops are either heavy or majorly lacking in specs or both.

Addendum: Linux Rant

I originally wrote this a comment on this article about why Linux desktop development has been slow going. But when Wired did a big upgrade and reorganization a few months ago, all the old comments got deleted:

I wrote the article in question, but I’m writing here as a computer user, not as a Wired writer.

I’m not a Mac or iOS user. I spend most of my time in Windows 7 these days, even though I still have a Linux partition (Peppermint right now, but I plan to swap this out for Ubuntu Studio).

The whole Linux/Ubuntu usability thing always comes down to personal opinion and anecdote. In my opinion, the Linux distros, particularly the various flavors of Ubuntu, are quite usable. Getting it working on laptops can still be a pain, but this can be mitigated by buying a laptop that comes with Linux pre-installed.

I’ve found that when I get someone to try Linux they can indeed do all the basics with no trouble. But that’s the problem — the basics are easy enough anywhere. There’s no incentive for someone who just uses their computer to for webmail and Facebook to go through the trouble of switching operating systems or buy a new computer from a Linux specialist. Better security and the open source ideology just don’t seem to be enough to convince people to make the switch. I don’t think I’ve gotten a single person to switch from Windows to Linux.

On the other hand since the mid 00s I’ve seen lots of people switch from Windows or Linux to OS X. Apple products have a je ne sais quoi that gets people to pay the premium. Linux just doesn’t seem to have that.

Meanwhile, when you get beyond the basics, Linux poses a lot of challenges. I went from using Ubuntu exclusively to using Windows sometimes because I needed a better video editor than was available for Linux a few years ago. Eventually I started booting into Linux less and less.

There are some great multimedia applications for Linux, including GIMP, Inkscape and VLC. There are also some really promising apps like Ardour and LMMS. But for professionals in design, video and audio Linux just doesn’t cut it yet, and most of the really good stuff is also available for Macs and/or Windows (Din, a soft synthesizer, is one interesting exception).

Gaming has often been a non-starter on Linux as well, though that’s steadily been getting better.

Then there are what I guess you could call power user apps. Stuff like Evernote, Skitch, Notational Velocity, TweetDeck, OmniFocus and Quicksilver that are available for Macs and/or Windows but not Linux. There are clones and substitutes, but nothing seems to measure up to the originals. I know there was an update to Skype recently, but the Linux version has long been a red headed step child.

Oh, and last I heard Netflix Streaming doesn’t work on Linux yet.

So while I’ve found the underlying guts of the OS/distro to be good, the lack of application support has long been lacking. The perfect clone or substitute has perpetually been just around the corner. This is the sort of stuff that keeps me in Windows all day. On Linux I’m constantly having to choose between buggy abandonware that happens to be open source, or dealing with running stuff in WINE. If it were just a matter running one or two apps in WINE, or of just booting into Windows when I had some audio mangling to do, that’d be one thing. But it just seems easier to swallow my geek pride and use Windows.

So why aren’t more apps available for Linux? I didn’t mention it in the article, but the financial incentives are far better for developers on Windows, OSX, the web, Android and iOS. For most Linux desktop developers it’s a labor of love.

There’s the chicken and the egg thing — there’s not enough users to justify developing for, but if there were more apps then there’d be more users. But if developers have been defecting to OS X and the web, then there’s not much hope of that.

I wish it weren’t true, but I’ve been slowly accepting this over the past year. I hope I’m wrong.

[I actually do think the situation has gotten better since I wrote that. I discovered Zim, which helped, and even though I don’t use it, Wunderlist supports Linux, which is nice.]