July 2005
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Month July 2005

Observations on Mac software (thus far)

Installed Microsoft Office for Mac last night, and finally have the tools I need to get things done. I don’t have any practical experience with Excel yet, but Word rocks on the Mac (and is visually much nicer than the Windows version with comparable power and functionality). Powerpoint seems sluggish and clunky compared to PPT on Windows, but still allows you to do necessary editing. If I lived in Powerpoint all the time, I’d probably be irritated at how slow it is (or I’d need to stuff a lot more RAM in this thing?).

It still mystifies me that Office on the Mac ships with something called “Entourage” instead of something called “Outlook,” but whatever. Entourage is actually a pretty darned good client, essentially providing a decent approximation of Outlook. Mail, which ships with OS X, is probably a bit cleaner for just reading mail, but since it doesn’t integrate with Exchange calendaring it’s really not an option for me right now. One thing that’s better than Outlook is that I get little bubble notifications for all my email accounts — one IMAP, Gmail via POP, and one Exchange, whereas in Outlook 2003 I only get bubble notifications from my primary Exchange account. So that’s nice — presumably it arises because MAPI doesn’t end up having the bizarre stranglehold over OS X that it seems to exert on Windows.

On the notetaking/outliner front, it turns out the Word for Mac team (you folks rock!) thought to include a “notebook” view into this version. I’m not quite sure yet how full-featured it is, or in my way of thinking how much of OneNote I get out of this feature, but since I wasn’t a freehand diagram guy in OneNote, it’s possible that I’ll get enough. It would be nice not to have a separate program for this activity, but if it turns out to be too rudimentary, I’m pretty happy with CircusPonies’ NoteBook and will just license that.

One complete irritation is that there does not appear to be a plug-in, Applescript, Greasemonkey script, or doo-dad which will put a “Subscribe in NetNewsWire…” item on the context (right-click) menu in Firefox. Maybe this doesn’t bug anybody else, but I have 242 subscriptions to RSS feeds in NetNewsWire, and I add new ones fairly regularly. NewsGator Outlook edition spoiled me on Windows, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be that easy on the Mac. Maybe I need to write a script or do something in Greasemonkey or whatever.

Birthday Party for Peter at Nell’s

My friend Peter had a birthday party at Nell’s on Greenlake on Sunday night. Peter’s alternating yearly between Nell’s and Cafe Juanita, which gives us a chance to focus alternately on Italian and French wines, of course. The menu, put together by Phil for the dinner, included his incredible “Chimney Smoked Lobster,” a selection of appetizers out on the deck while we drank rose champagne, and Kobe beef hanger steak, which was incredible. Since I’m being very good these days, I had small bites of everything and shared the rest around the table, and avoided the foie gras appetizer entirely. The wines were:

  • Billecart-Salmon Rose Champagne
  • Raveneau 1995 Chapelot
  • Comte Lafon 1996 Clos de la Barre
  • Comte Lafon 1990 Meursault-Charmes
  • Jadot 1989 Corton-Charlemagne
  • Mascarello 1989 Barolo
  • Beaucastel 1989
  • Vieux Telegraphe 1989
  • Gruaud Larose 1989
  • Chave 1989 Hermitage
  • Christoffel-Prum 1971 Auslese

Of these, the Mascarello 1989 was one of the best reds, with the Chave 1989 being delicious but more advanced than I recalled it previously. The Beaucastel was fascinating — a menthol-ish note reminded us of Heitz Martha’s Vineyard (at least in the old days) and the wine lacked a lot of the leathery bretty nose, but was sound and delicious. Maybe it’s entering a new phase, who knows? I brought my last magnum of the Vieux Telegraphe 1989, which took time to open up and come out of its shell but was open and lush and sweet. Those who tasted it right after pouring were disappointed, but the wine continued to improve long into the evening. I took some home and the glass eventually started to fade by 11 p.m. or so (it had been double-decanted around 4:30 or so). The Gruaud Larose was lovely with the Kobe beef and seems to be starting to show some secondary characteristics, but still is youthful in color.

Of the whites, the Raveneau was naturally the star of the show for me. Creamy lemony minerals and great acidity, I kept this in the glass along with all the reds and kept returning to it, and it continued to give pleasure for hours. The Lafon 1996 was great, young and brash but excellent. The 1990, in contrast, seemed a bit oxidized and was most people’s least favorite of the whites. The Jadot Corton was excellent but somewhat straightforward and unexciting. Drunk alone, I would have loved it but it didn’t compare well.

New Powerbook update #2

I’m almost fully “up and running” on the new Powerbook, and I’m having a blast. Last night I copied document and music trees over from my Windows machine, and will now consider the Mac to be “primary” for buying music on iTunes. I’ll probably prune the “laptop-resident” document tree (I have many gigs of stored research papers, etc, on my Windows laptop), and keep them at home on the file server, with a mirror on my Mac for use in writing or doing research. The windows laptop will get cleaner and cleaner and will become just the “work” machine like it was intended to be.

For documents I’m working on (rather than stored static PDF archives), I’m using a Subversion repository on a home file server, running out of Apache2 with WebDAV. This means that “working copies” are stored on Windows and the Mac which then get treated just like source code — update, merge, commit as needed. This has been working for months on my Windows machine, and gives me a combination of backup, multi-machine sync, and version control for critical documents and writings. We’ll see how well this works when split across Windows and Mac, but if Microsoft Office is happy with the documents, it’ll probably be seamless.

At this point, all that’s missing from the Powerbook is Microsoft Office itself, which I’m getting this week (hopefully tomorrow). At that point, I’ll be fully functional. I do need to make a final decision on outliners/notetaking software, to replace Microsoft OneNote (which I love but which doesn’t have a Mac version, hint hint…). At the moment, I’m trying four of them and NoteBook from CircusPonies (oddly enough) is winning. Probably wouldn’t win if I were interested mostly in project tracking, todo lists, etc, but I do all of that in Outlook (probably soon, Entourage), and Microsoft Project when necessary. For my purposes, the outliner really is more of a note-taking environment, and NoteBook is winning.

I spent time at the Allegro today with the new machine and loved every minute of it. I’m not bothered by the smaller screen, since with good display technology and typography I can read and edit text at smaller sizes. And I bought a Bluetooth optical mouse, which gives me a thumbwheel and a right-click button. I’m sorry, but Apple went overboard simplifying the mouse, and as a result the clunky but beautiful Apple mice are more like art than tools. But Kensington had a nice travel-worthy wireless mouse which will work equally good at home and on the road. Now I just need one of those Incase neoprene envelope things to protect my sexy little laptop when I throw it in my 13-year old Mountainsmith lumbar “day” pack and I’m good to go.

Hey, another question for Mac-inclined readers…on Windows I was using Picasa from Google to organize my photos and loving it. How is iPhoto, really, and is it worth buying iLife? Is there something better for photo management? (And no, Tim, I’m not looking to write my own just for fun!)

Book #40: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Like many people, I’m a fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and pre-ordered Book Six from Amazon. When it arrived, I settled back and prepared for the story to get deeper, darker, and more “adult.” I wasn’t disappointed. These are clearly not children’s books anymore — in fact, that category really only applies to the first several in the series.

I loved Book Six (The Half-Blood Prince), and I’m not going to discuss the plot much here, since I know a few friends who have not yet had a chance to read it. Instead, I want to echo Mika LaVaque-Manty’s thoughts on Harry Potter as a morality tale. Morality in the books comes not from supernatural forces (of any kind) — good and evil are situated quite concretely in the actions and predilections of individual wizards. Harry and his friends are responsible for their own moral growth, and are not “told” how to solve their greatest challenges. Dumbledore has never forced Harry to fight Voldemort, nor does Dumbledore (recall the end of Book 5) seem to regard the “prophecy” as a force unto itself; instead, the prophecy is given force by Voldemort’s (and to a lesser extent, Harry’s) belief in it. Dumbledore’s consistent role throughout the books has been as a guide for Harry, and a protector until he was sufficiently awake to his powers and situation that he could assume the role of an independent moral agent.

In this way, the Harry Potter series is quite different from Tolkein’s saga as a morality tale. Lord of the Rings is clearly identifiable as an epic struggle between good and evil, but in the grand tradition of epic poetry and Norse sagas, morality is situated at the level of the tale as a whole — individuals within the LoTR cycle don’t really evolve. I’m quite sure that’s overgeneralized, but at some level it’s true — Aragorn doesn’t change much if at all throughout the series; instead, Aragorn changes the events around him, and the events tell the morality tale. (One could make a case, for example, for moral evolution in Boromir, but it plays a fairly minor part in the overall story). The Harry Potter series, on the other hand, is all about individual moral development, and is for that reason a much deeper tale than the simple moniker “children’s literature” would seem to suggest.

Coming home to Apple…

It’s been a long time since I’ve owned a computer made by Apple, probably since 1996-7 when I boxed up my Centris 660AV for the last time, but yesterday I became an Apple owner again! 

I’ve had Powerbook lust for a long time now, especially for the sexy little one.   My work laptop is a Dell Inspiron 8500, which has plenty of power for development and a nice bright widescreen display, but it’s too large to work with in coach on most airlines, and it weighs a ton.  I wasn’t ready to spend a ton of money on a new Powerbook, though, so I decided recently to just set a limit (well under $1000), and keep playing the eBay game until I won an auction. 

Which happened this last week, and yesterday I brought home a 12", 1.0GHz G4 Powerbook with 768MB of RAM and a 60GB drive.  The case has a small scratch, and the "eject" key needs to be repaired (I think I’ll end up ignoring it or replacing the keyboard, depending on the cost of the latter), but otherwise it’s in pretty nice shape.  I’m in the middle of installing software this weekend (Tiger, MS Office, Firefox, NetNewsWire, Eclipse, TextWrangler/BBEdit) and then I’m in business.

One question, for Mac aficionado readers — I’m a big user of Microsoft OneNote for outlining and notetaking on Windows.  Does anybody have recommendations for a Mac equivalent?

I’m so happy to be back in the fold again.  It’s been too long. 

Book #39: Jeffrey Issac, The Poverty of Progressivism

Jeffrey Issac’s 2003 book, The Poverty of Progressivism, is a
sobering but realistic look at why a progressive majority will be
difficult to rebuild in the United States.  Issac’s work is, therefore,
almost the polar opposite of Judis and Teixeira’s The Emerging Democratic Majority.  Issac’s argument for a "chastened" progressivism
resonated strongly with me
because it echoed a great deal of the historical research I’ve been doing lately. 
The Progressive period in American politics is quite simply different than the situations we face today. 

Sure, parallels exist between the later Gilded Age and today, and certain of the social
conditions which gave rise to the Progressive era have strong parallels today, but the
similarities end there.  Perhaps the biggest difference between the period 1890-1920 and today is that we currently lack a broad-based movement among working Americans which presses the political parties for progressive reforms.  Instead, today’s broad-based movements are “conservative” and aimed at cultural, rather than economic, issues.  This difference alone is enough to support Issac’s pessimistic outlook for progressivism in the United States, but it’s not the only or most important difference.  More important is the structural difference in economies between the Progressive Era and today.  The “globalization” of the economy has greatly lessened the ability of national governments to introduce progressive reforms against private economic actors which can be made to “stick.”  This simple fact forms the background against which today’s progressives must rethink their strategy, political economy, and policy proposals.  Issac’s book is a good first step in this direction, although I’m less convinced than he is that a focus on civil society organizations is our path of least resistance. 

I didn’t intend this to be a full essay on the subject; I am working on a couple of essays for Progressive Commons related to this topic and I’ll be returning in one of them to Issac’s argument, since although I believe Judis and Teixeira are perceptive about the potential demographics of progressives, demographics alone won’t help because the underlying political economy presents powerful barriers to our traditional notions of progressive policy and reforms.