Back to the Mac, part 1

Two weeks ago I switched back to a Mac (MacBook Air 2013 13 inch) at work. I tweeted as much and was asked for my install checklist for a new Mac. As the IT support for my office (and home), documenting my steps and thinking is a good idea.

First, I am firmly of the “lighter is better” category in terms of software installs, preference tweaks, and other edits. My feeling is the less tweaking I do, the fewer conflicts I’ll introduce, and more importantly the less I’ll have to remember. Also, although it’s not an every day scenario, the faster I can get a new machine up and running the better. So each new install is an opportunity to test how much I really need any single piece of software. As I don’t get new computers (at home) that often, this is also my chance to evaluate whether OS updates have made 3rd party software redundant.

As a result of this type of testing I don’t change the OS X defaults for scroll direction, button colors, or menu bar transparency. I’ve gotten used to them all in previous updates, making for fewer settings to flip. The only customization I do is to Safari tabs, using Keyboard Preferences to set Command-Option-Right and Command-Option-Left to Next Tab and Previous Tab respectively. The defaults don’t work for my fingers. I also use the text line selection shortcuts (Command-Shift-L/R) all the time, and the two integrate well.

To start with I have two accounts logged in with System Preferences: Exchange (work) and Gmail (personal). Everything else can wait. To avoid one extra install I’m trying to use Mail, Calendar, and Reminders instead of Outlook. One less app to manage, and Outlook’s crashing was one of the big reasons I ditched the PC at work (having always had a Mac at home).

As a result of the above, my day one install list was incredibly minimal:

1. Dropbox – gets installed first because it holds my 1Password backup

2. 1Password – access to everything

3. Little Snitch – inbound & outbound traffic monitor

4. Office – Excel alone is probably enough for me

And that was it. I used the computer for two days this way, at work and at home, trying to see what else I needed for work to integrate with the all-Windows environment there. On the personal end, I was holding off on everything as this is a work-first machine. At this point I had neither Flash nor Java installed, and hadn’t launched iTunes.

So here’s my added install for work, with Office already on the machine:

5. Windows Server Launchpad – to connect with Small Business Server Essentials 2011, works flawlessly on OS X

6. Microsoft Lync – Hopefully Microsoft continues to unify products and Skype becomes the default MS messaging client soon

7. Chrome – for Flash player

8. GoToMeeting client – poorly named but functional

Two more days and it was weekend time. I’d gotten into a pretty good routine at work, using two monitors, Mail, Lync, Excel, Safari, and Calendar relentlessly. So far the Mac transition has been all upside, with faster boot in the morning and less time relaunching Outlook.

For personal use what did I miss? Surprisingly little. But after four days, I was done testing Spotlight. It’s better than the last time I’d tried (Lion) but I want something that remembers my search terms and allows me to Google from the keyboard.

Final personal use installs:

9. Amazon MP3 Downloader – I buy almost all my music from Amazon and then match it into iTunes with iTunes Match for cloud sync

10. LaunchBar – This is usually the first Mac app I install, and it still should be. Spotlight can’t really compete, and I use only a handful of the abilities. Amazing that two of my top ten apps come from the same small German company.

That’s it. I’ve got all my work data and my music on this computer. I’ve got Office, search, meetings, server connections, and my own passwords and essential data. The computer’s good to go.


After another 2 days I added two apps from the App store (that I already owned) to make my personal use better:

11. Ulysses III – This is my main writing app, and I love it.

12. Tweetbot – I like Twitter, but without this app only use it on my phone.

Another day at work and I added one more thing, specifically to handle the display of tasks from Exchange. I could use Microsoft’s My Day app, which comes with Office, but then it launches Outlook, which I’m trying not to use. Task display will probably determine my success with avoiding Outlook on the Mac.

13. Fantastical – A menu bar calendar, task list, and quick input method. Available from the App Store though I already had a license. I had hoped to avoid installing this, just to reduce clutter, but it’s a great app.

Two weeks later I still haven’t installed Java or Flash player, outside of Chrome.

The amazing thing about this list is both how much has changed and how little. In 2006 I got the first Intel-based Mac, the 15″ MacBook Pro. Hot as hell and bigger than I need in a computer, but a great step up from my 2000 (Pismo) PowerBook.

In February of 2006 Twitter, Dropbox, Amazon MP3, and Chrome didn’t exist. 1Password would come out a few months later. But Little Snitch, LaunchBar, and Ulysses were among the first apps I installed.

When I think of that, installing LaunchBar on 10.4 Tiger on that brand new Intel Mac in 2006, it makes me smile. I wish I had a list of my set up steps for that machine.

In transit

Avoid dead time, the recommendations go. Time in airports, time in train stations. Spend that time adventuring, seeing one more temple, eating one more meal. Never eat on the plane. Never drink on the train. Spend the time walking, and then rush to the gate, to the platform. Be the last one on board. See more, and wait less.

This advice is not wrong. The airports of the world are more similar than the cities, the restaurants, the temples. Train platforms are empty things, born of functionality and passenger capacity. Security lines are massive multiplayer experiments in patience, and in humanity’s ability to trust the unseen. A single hour sitting in a Ho Chi Minh City food stall is worth a dozen in Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport Terminal 1. An hour in Edinburgh more valuable than a dozen in JFK’s Terminal 4. Time waiting can’t be reclaimed, and hours spent in the Shaoxing train station can never be turned into great stories.

Except for the arcade game in Shaoxing station, a drop the claw and pick up a prize style box, the glass enclosure filled not with plush toys but with foil-wrapped packs of cigarettes. Except for the hours spent with old men sitting in the halls of high speed trains, watching the Chinese countryside blur past. Except for the feeling of a long tail boat pushing off from an island beach in Thailand. Travel is dead time and it is watchful time.

In between our house and our office are two chapters of a novel read on the train, a podcast, a phone call, an album. In between where we are and where we are going are a couple of accidental interactions with people we had no intention of meeting. Multiplied by hundreds, thousands, and our lives are suddenly full of strangers, filled with observation and the opportunity to learn. Would we be richer without all our time in transit? When asked what super power I’d want, I immediately wish for teleportation; the ability to eat dinner with my grand parents and then watch the sun set on the Pacific, the chance to play ultimate with friends in all corners of the globe on the same day, and the opportunity to see hundreds of thousands of places I will probably never see specifically because of transit time. Until recently I have never considered what I’d be giving up.

Airports can be hassles, security mind-numbing. Busses can be too bouncy to read on, or smell of urine. Trains can be filled with people eating food on our seats and smoking cigarettes in our air space. And yet are we better off without that time? Are we better off without each other?

On a flight back from Haneda to SFO I look around at my fellow travelers, each with their own destination and their own purpose. We are crammed together in this flying tube far above the Pacific, uncertain of the hour or day, trusting our pilots, watching movies, and dreaming of places far away. For a few hours we are free from all interruptions from the world outside, obligated only to each other.

We could all do worse than these hours expended in motion.


iOS 7 wishes, part 1

Monday’s Apple keynote will reveal iOS 7. Many are hoping for big fixes, a total Ives-led overhaul. Not me. Sure, I’d like a much better sharing system, a looser grasp on default apps, and a faster update speed to the cloud-based Maps/Siri. But those are wishes, and I like to ask for specifics.

I’d like to see 3 annoyances fixed. That’s all. Here’s the first:


Open Messages in airplane mode but with Wifi on, and this alert appears. Not only is it annoying, it’s not true. Messages works on wifi, like so:


And it gets worse. Lock the phone, unlock, and re-open Messages:


Same alert. Not only is it not true, but it appears every time Messages is opened after locking the phone. And, of course, Messages still works over wifi:


All I’d really like from Apple in iOS 7 is an improved attention to detail. Strange to say, for a company famous for it.