Switch and bait

by Henry on April 18, 2009

As I mentioned previously on this blog, I had a somewhat unfortunate experience a few months back. I was working in my office, when a work-study knocked on my door with a brand new MacBook Pro, which he told me had been sent over from my school’s technology program. I was nonplussed, and told him that he must be wrong, that I hadn’t ordered one etc, but he insisted, and indeed my name was on his work-order form. So I finally acquiesced, on the grounds of gift-horses, and the wisdom of not inquiring too closely into the dental conditions thereof, and unpacked it. 2 hours later, I was completely hooked – more rational and altogether nicer than my Windows box, while much smoother than my Ubuntu installation. I would have wanted to take it home and marry it, if I wasn’t married already. 3 hours later, I discovered that of course it had been a mistake, and that it was in fact intended for a colleague with a vaguely similar name (the person preparing the work order had not unreasonably gotten confused). And I had to give it back.

Hence my proposal (copyright Henry Farrell 2009, but if Apple want it, they can have it in return for a rolling program of hardware replacement to be negotiated) for a new TV ad series, building off of the classic series from the early 2000s, and entitled (in honor thereof) Bait and Switch. Deliver Apple computers to a number of unsuspecting Windows users, selected from various advertising friendly demographics. Give them a few days to get used to their new machines. Then tell them that it is a mistake, and that they will have to give them back and return to Windows. And film their reactions, consternation, refusal etc. I imagine it would make for great television (perhaps I am speaking from the zeal of the new convert).

Second, and more seriously, having been bait-and-switched myself, I have finally taken the plunge and bought a MacBook Pro for the new book that I hope to start writing. Good software recommendations and general tips are gratefully appreciated. I already know about (and have bought) TextMate, and plugged in MultiMarkdown thanks to Kieran’s earlier tutelage (he was the first person I emailed when I thought I had been given a new Apple free, gratis and for nothing). I’m also probably getting Scrivener, for aforementioned project. But any other recommendations for productivity software etc would be gratefully appreciated.

{ 111 comments }

1

Eric L 04.18.09 at 7:45 pm

I would have wanted to take it home and marry it, if I wasn’t married already.

I imagine the legitimate owner was happy that you didn’t consummate the relationship. You didn’t, did you?

2

Another Damned Medievalist 04.18.09 at 7:58 pm

I’m supposed to be getting my first mac book next month … not a por, but then I’m glad about it weighing less …

I’d love to hear whether Scrivener is worth getting …

3

Moby Hick 04.18.09 at 7:59 pm

SAS for Mac stopped at like version 6. Which precludes me dumping Windows. (If my information is out of date, somebody let me know please.)

4

sth 04.18.09 at 8:12 pm

Zotero (zotero.org)
Neither scrivener nor textmate have plugins available to directly cite from your Zotero sources, (Though OpenOffice does) but as a citation manager, it’s vastly superior to endnote, in a vast variety of ways.
Also, svn for version control.

5

Righteous Bubba 04.18.09 at 8:24 pm

Quicksilver. Free and eventually indispensible.

http://docs.blacktree.com/quicksilver/what_is_quicksilver

6

MarkUp 04.18.09 at 9:07 pm

CarbonCopyCloner or SuperDuper with or w/o Apples TM for backing up.

7

marc 04.18.09 at 9:20 pm

Here’s a collection of mac stuff I have stumbled upon. Enjoy a (mostly) virus and bug free experience.

8

David Kahane 04.18.09 at 9:44 pm

I prefer Safari to Firefox, as the latter is slower and buggier; but I know some will beg to differ.

Mac’s mail, calendar, and address software are cleaner and faster than Entourage.

MactheRipper.

And I’m very pleased with Time Capsule as a seamless hardware/software incremental backup combo, as well as wireless hub.

9

Mark Eli Kalderon 04.18.09 at 9:51 pm

BibDesk, Skim, NetNewsWire. Another vote for QuickSilver. And be sure to leverage the Unix goodness under the hood.

10

Righteous Bubba 04.18.09 at 9:51 pm

I prefer Safari to Firefox, as the latter is slower and buggier; but I know some will beg to differ.

I will! The most recent Firefox is pretty zippy and the extensibility more than makes up for anything else. Too bad it’s not Service-aware though.

11

Slocum 04.18.09 at 9:58 pm

Am I the only one who was struck by the juxtaposition of a series of posts about reducing inequality followed by one extolling the seductive joys of a $200o-$3000 laptop?

Still, given that a MacBook Pro has been “carved from a single block of aluminum” and is “slim and streamlined with a soft-brushed surface and stunning contours” and that “there was only one way to achieve this level of precision: mill the unibody from a solid block of aluminum using computer numerical control, or CNC, machines — the kind used by the aerospace industry to build mission-critical spacecraft components” well, what can one say? The very same kind of machines used to build mission-critical spacecraft components? Say no more. How could a social democrat write a new book on anything less exquisite? I am lead to wonder, though, if there will be any discussion about discouraging wasteful spending on positional goods in the new book…

12

Randolph 04.18.09 at 10:03 pm

Hmmmm…buy a backup disk immediately, if your school doesn’t already provide backup services. In fact, buy two, and keep one in a lockbox. Time Machine is very easy to use, and can be real lifesaver.

Free Office suite: NeoOffice, an OpenOffice.org derivative considerably superior to the OO.o Mac version.

David Kahane, I agree that Safari is more pleasant than Firefox on a Mac, but it’s a huge security hole, and the way that Macs usually get pwned. Besides, Firefox runs Zotero.

13

Kieran Healy 04.18.09 at 10:05 pm

Is QuickSilver still being developed? I thought it had been abandoned, but I guess I was wrong. I use LaunchBar for much the same purpose. I find 1Password really useful, too. Other neat utilities: if you need to ssh to remote servers and would like to treat them as if they were just like a USB drive you plugged in to the computer, then MacFuse or its commercially-wrapped counterpart ExpanDrive are useful. DropBox is good, too, for convenient file sharing, and it works across platforms. SuperDuper is good for backups.

14

Nic 04.18.09 at 10:46 pm

MondoMouse is a great little $15 Preferences pane that lets you move and resize windows by grabbing them anywhere while holding down the Fn or Fn+Control keys. Sounds like nothing till you use it, but it’s a huge convenience.

15

Righteous Bubba 04.18.09 at 11:08 pm

Is QuickSilver still being developed?

I dunno; seems unlikely. Works, though, and works well for free.

16

Jeffrey 04.18.09 at 11:10 pm

Just about anything from the Omni Group (www.omnigroup.com) is good.

VMware Fusion, NetNewsWire, BBEdit, Changes.app, Versions.app, PasswordWallet, Twitterrific, Perian, HandBrake, MacTeX-2008

17

EWI 04.18.09 at 11:59 pm

But any other recommendations for productivity software etc would be gratefully appreciated.

* OmniGraffle for creating graphics – accept no substitute.
* VLC for most media files (Perian & Flip4mac to give more codecs to Quicktime.
* NetNewsWire for RSS feeds.
* Handbrake for video encoding.
* Little Snitch for application firewall.
* OpenOffice for exchanging documents with most other suites.
* VoodooPad (desktop wiki app) for documentation.
* Winclone for backing up Bootcamp.
* Skim for PDF annotation.
* Elgato TV hardware (with EyeTV) for TV and DVR duties.
* Path Finder as well, Finder replacement.
* Toast for disk burning.
* MenuMeters for keeping an eye on system resources.

18

Jake 04.19.09 at 12:12 am

You might want to keep an eye on the Mac board at Ars Technica, as threads about useful programs perennially arise. You could even create one yourself! Naturally, I couldn’t find one on the first two pages, which is a pain because I usually see and ignore them.

Anyway, I’ll reiterate the recommendations for NetNewsWire and VLC, both of which I use regularly. If you’re writing a book, consider DevonThink Pro, and check out this post from Steven Berlin Johnson on the subject of books and DTP. I use Book Ends for bibliography stuff. Finally, Delicious Library is a fun little program.

If you have the cash, you might want to consider a second monitor, which is really, really nice. I’m now using an iMac—as shown here—but once used a PowerBook G4 and external display, which is, I think, linked to from the post mentioned in this sentence.

If you’re curious about DTP and books and what not, send me an e-mail for more details.

19

nick s 04.19.09 at 1:21 am

The Quicksilver developer is now at Google, and his first release is Google QuickSearch for Mac. Not as arcane as QS, but nice enough. And the QS source has been released, though development has (understandably) slowed to a trickle.

Evernote is fun and cloud-synched, though I haven’t used it seriously. DevonThink is pricey, but if you use it the same way Steven Johnson does, it probably pays for itself. I’m a fan of the old Notational Velocity for snippets, though I lost a load of notes on a re-install because of where it stores them; other people seem to like Yojimbo for that kind of ‘bucket o’notes’ thing. InstantShot is a vast improvement on the built-in screen-capture software. Adium combines all your different IM accounts.

20

Mitchell Rowe 04.19.09 at 1:22 am

Slocum you must be a hoot at parties.

21

Kate 04.19.09 at 1:25 am

I know it’s going to sound a bit cult, but I have to back iWork as the best word processor going if you want WYSIWYG. NeoOffice (at least on every machine I’ve had it on) is slow and unreliable.

This is a useful compilation of “academic” software. I also have to second the recommendation for anything by Omni.

22

Hussein Rashid 04.19.09 at 1:37 am

In addition to the excellent recommendations above, look at:

Mellel for writing. Crash free, long document brilliance. Apparently Scrivener to Mellel is quite easy and common workflow. I really like Scrivener, it’s just not the way I write. (http://redlers.com/)

I know Zotero has already been mentioned, but I live on Bookends. (http://www.sonnysoftware.com/). Direct import from many databases, cross-linking of files, and powerful search features make it a much better tool for me. Use it in conjunction with Zotero for DBs and news sites (NYT) that aren’t recognized by BE.

I love Circus Ponies’ NoteBook (http://www.circusponies.com/). All my notes from books and articles are in there, annotated and keyworded to the nth degree. The live indexing feature means I can see relationships that I think make sense.

I’m just learning the power of DevonThink Office Pro (http://www.devon-technologies.com/). The OCR is pretty good, but the “AI” is pretty good at recognizing relationships amongst various articles, some of which are lost through my other means of organization. It’s linked to my BookEnds attachments folder. I have another DB that has my lecture notes and presentations, which reduces my overall storage space as I use replicants.

I use a combination of ecto and MacJournal for blogging.

NetNewsWire is great, especially if you’re using an iPhone, or multiple computers.

DropBox is a must for fast file transfer and file sharing. I do use EverNote, but am not a power user.

Mozy. Mozy. Mozy.

Try Camino as a web browser. Safari is my primary, followed by Firefox, but it Camino is a nice quite alternative for compatibility checking. It’s also my wife’s browser when she needs to check something without needing to log into her account.

Try Burn instead of Toast if you are looking for simple burning.

Echo on Skim, Handbrake, and VLC.

EventBox for social media, although several people have suggested Nambu for Twitter.

I use Nisus Writer Pro for simple writing and short papers.

Look at Mail Act-On and Mail Tags for advanced mail management.

Audacity for audio editing

1Password for password generation and management. I can’t say enough good things about the program or the developers.

Bean, for writing.

Pukka for delicious up loads. Also, Cocoalicious.

Paparazzi for 1 continuous PDF of a multipage document.

23

Stu 04.19.09 at 4:08 am

I love Quicksilver as well; it’s a great program. My advice is to look at Lifehacker’s guide to the program. It’s got a minor but definite learning curve. After about fifteen minutes of tinkering you won’t believe how you went without it, even if you never knew anything like it existed.

As for other Mac programs, I get by just fine on Google Documents, and I run Firefox with about forty different Add-Ons, and I think you should too.

24

Ben Alpers 04.19.09 at 4:09 am

Tinderbox is terrific for notes and much, much more (though I barely take advantage of its features).

Get a Drobo and use it with Timemachine (being sure to partition the Drobo so you have plenty of space for additional storage). Your on-site backup and storage needs will be solved.

I like Popcorn for burning DVDs.

Get iWork and use Keynote instead of Powerpoint.

25

Brad 04.19.09 at 4:12 am

I’m not sure if it would be of much help for the books you write, but check out Jer’s Novel Writer. Also, a ton of good suggestions above, a few i use multiple times a day would be netnewswire and 1password.

26

David 04.19.09 at 4:13 am

++ for Scrivener. Although I suspect its usefulness depends heavily on your writing style. (Give it a week or two, and see.)

I use Mellel. Its approach to formatting has a steep learning curve (you really need to define styles), but once you get the hang of it you’ll have much more systematic control over your document. It’s good for me as I work on a dissertation, which I need to format myself to strict/insane requirements. The lack of Word compatibility (especially sharing comments) is a pain, though, and you can’t undo past the last save (the latter might be a fatal problem).

Barely relatedly, Budget is a fantastic little personal finance program that I try to mention whenever I get a chance, because it isn’t very well-known. The envelope method is fantastic. It’s not the most Apple-like piece of software (well, it does feel a little OS 8-era-ish), but it’s very useful.

27

Lara 04.19.09 at 4:24 am

I just want to add two:

Skitch is brilliant for screen capture and image annotation (which is more useful than you’d think); it even quickly and gracefully crops, resizes and posts your images online.

Textexpander – lets you store snippets of text and images that will be automatically inserted when you type a certain abbreviation. I use it for a lot of things, but I particularly like the way it lets me access characters you can usually only get to through the Character Palette:
type: `uq get: ∀
type: 4//5 get: ⅘
It also lets you do clever things with applescript, like automatically calculating dates; eg for next Thursday’s date:
type: ‘nth get: 04/23/2009

28

John Quiggin 04.19.09 at 5:02 am

I’ve just been pointed to Papers, which is brilliant and works very nicely with Bookends. It’s still developing but the basic idea is magical. Drop a PDF file on pages, and it gets located in Google Scholar or some similar archive, allocated a meaningful name and filed away for you in an archive that you nominate. Then you can export the ref to Bookends or similar.

Nisus Writer is a great word processor, with a complete GREP built in.

As no-one has mentioned the topic, I’ll recommend Parallels as an excellent (not the only) way of including a virtualised Windows box for that last indispensable program (eg SAS or Scientific Word) that’s keeping you from going fully Mac.

I’ll repeat endorsements for NetNewsWire and (even if development has stalled) Quicksilver, and I’ll follow up some of the other recommendations above.

29

Jim McFarland 04.19.09 at 5:04 am

One little gem of a Mac program I have recently discovered is “Freedom” (http://macfreedom.com/). Speaking as an admitted procrastinator, the fact that my work environment gives me immediate access to the internet with its streaming videos and fascinating blogs (such as CT) can prove devilishly tempting when the creative afflatus flags. (Oh my God it’s happening now!) Freedom severs your computer’s connection to the internet for a number of minutes you select, and once it’s set you can’t interrupt it without rebooting the machine. It won’t disturb your connection to a local area network, so you can still print to a network computer, etc. When the minutes (up to 480, I think, but I usually go an hour at a time) have passed, Freedom informs you that it has reconnected you to the internet. And it has. For those of us plagued by cybernetic akrasia, Freedom, like Kant’s manservant Lampe, is an indispensably merciless assistant.

30

mario romero 04.19.09 at 5:14 am

you want writeroom

31

Tom Paine 04.19.09 at 10:00 am

As a switcher myself, I recommend that you buy no software at all until you have found out what your machine can do with what came with it. That will save you a fortune.

Windows users are accustomed to expecting that their new machine is useless until they install tons of stuff. For example they have minutes to install and update their anti virus defences before their machine gets deflowered over the ‘net. Poor saps. Don’t install the software that comes with kit like scanners and printers either. Usually (unlike the frustrating experience when you buy new peripherals for a Windows machine) they just work.

A year after switching, I went through my machine and deleted a lot of stuff I had installed from Windows-using habit that was a waste of time. The only thing I don’t regret buying (because I have to use Windows at work) is Microsoft Office for Mac.

Most of all, don’t buy any of the software that runs Windows on your Mac. You may think you can’t live without that stuff, but you will be amazed how wrong you are.

32

Charlie Stross 04.19.09 at 10:16 am

On office suites —

NeoOffice is a fork of OpenOffice 2.4. Runs well, and you can find it at Neooffice.org.

Traditionally, OpenOffice for Mac was a dog — it relied on X11 and was just hideous to work with. However, a few months ago they finally released OpenOffice/Aqua, with an OS/X native interface. It’s a little faster than NeoOffice, last time I looked. Available here.

Which of ‘em you use is a matter of personal taste, but …

If you’re used to a UNIX/Linux command line, there’s a wonderful tool that comes in OS/X 10.4 and higher: textutil. Textutil is a command that does a whole bunch of handly file conversions, including file formats — it can do stuff like Microsoft .docx to OpenOffice .odt (and vice versa), or webarchive to RTF, or HTML to .doc. Interestingly, the HTML it produces is standards-conformant and much nicer than the garbage OO.o or MS Office produce.

If you do ebooks or have an ebook reader, you probably need Calibre — but that’s cross-platform and not Mac-specific.

33

Charlie Stross 04.19.09 at 10:18 am

Oh, and don’t buy VMWare or Parallels or any other VM environment for running Windows or Linux under OS/X until you’ve tried the free alternative: VirtualBox.

34

AcademicLurker 04.19.09 at 11:19 am

“How could a social democrat write a new book on anything less exquisite?”

Indeed. I suppose you were also shocked and outraged to learn that Al Gore lives in a house and not a cardboard box.

35

Slocum 04.19.09 at 11:45 am

Slocum you must be a hoot at parties.

You’ve got the wrong idea. I’ve got a good friend who’s a prof here and as lefty as…well, not as lefty as academics come, but lefty enough. He just got a new MacBook Pro. It’s his second one (and he had a 15″ Powerbook G4 before that). When he got it, I had a beer with him and oohed and aahed appropriately over his new toy (which is cool and shiny), and obviously did not point out that it’s totally f**king absurd for this cash-strapped state to be buy a new $2500 laptop for professors every couple years. Especially for professors who use their machines for web access, email, and word-processing, where even a current, $500 laptop encased in plebeian plastic is already massive overkill, and could quite easily be replaced only every 4 or 5 years — or however long before it breaks (which I can say with confidence, using a 5-year-old laptop myself that is still overkill for those uses–which is why I haven’t replaced it). The same guy and his wife believe they are dedicated environmentalists (boy do they recycle!) and very worried about global warming, but fly themselves and their kids all over the country and the world many, many times a year. Of course, I also don’t point that out–I just enjoy seeing the pictures and hearing the stories of their lovely trips.

If I knew Henry personally, I’m sure I’d take the same approach, but I don’t. Should I really be using the ‘polite friends and neighbors’ model for discussions on CT?

36

MattF 04.19.09 at 12:23 pm

Not a program, but an OS X hint– the ‘Quick Look’ feature of the Finder. Select a document in the Finder and then hit the space bar– You get a view of the document without opening it. It works for pdf’s, doc’s, jpg’s, wav’s + many other file types and is ridiculously useful. Note, though, that Quick Look is a Finder feature– if you open a Quick Look and then bring some other program to the foreground, the Quick Look disappears.

37

Chris J 04.19.09 at 12:36 pm

There is a nice LaTeX implementation called TexShop. I use it alot and it works. Out of the box it runs pdflatex but it can be configured to your favourite setups.

38

david tiley 04.19.09 at 12:38 pm

The productivity benefits of an operating system which is more intuitive can surely be defended on purely rational grounds, even if you want to say that having paint on the real walls of your ugly flat is like wasteful and proves you don’t believe in equality.

Say your computer costs you $2000 more – which assumes cheap Windows v high end Mac. Assume you use it for three years, and they really do last longer. That is $660/year. Assume you spend at least eight hours a day working with it at least powered up and displaying useful stuff. That is around thirty cents an hour.

Let’s not play bash the Mac owner over the cost. It is not rational.

39

Barry 04.19.09 at 12:54 pm

Moby Hick 04.18.09 at 7:59 pm

” SAS for Mac stopped at like version 6. Which precludes me dumping Windows. (If my information is out of date, somebody let me know please.)”

Same situation here, plus SPSS. Charles Stross pointed out methods of running Windows on a Mac, so it’s doable. And Bootcamp is yet another option.

40

Slocum 04.19.09 at 1:14 pm

The productivity benefits of an operating system which is more intuitive can surely be defended on purely rational grounds

But one invariably hears such rationalizations for luxury purchases. A $75,000 Mercedes could be defended on practical grounds of, say, ‘needing’ absolutely THE most advanced safety features for one’s family. Those little windshield wipers on the head-lights could be the difference between life and death, you know.

But the intuitive operating system is available in a $999 plebeian plastic model, too, isn’t it?

Assume you use it for three years, and they really do last longer.

If you’re only using it for 3 years, it’s definitely not lasting longer.

Assume you spend at least eight hours a day working with it at least powered up and displaying useful stuff. That is around thirty cents an hour.

But it’s still $2000 at the margin every couple of years that could have been spent on something else. After living expenses and taxes, at lot of people don’t find an extra $2000 of discretionary money to be a trivial sum, and it doesn’t become trivial by dividing out by the hour. Which is why they don’t tend to buy $2500 items when $500 items will serve the purpose. Unless they’re rich enough not to care…and can afford a product that they not only will want to use but will also want to marry. Or unless they’re not spending their own money, in which case, well…why not?

41

The Raven 04.19.09 at 1:38 pm

Academic institutions prefer Macs, and pay well for them, IIRC, is that they’re much, much, much cheaper to support than Windows systems. When I was back at StateUniversityOnATightBudget, the IT department found they were about three times cheaper to support than comparable Windows systems. Ease of use and quality design save money, and so does having current systems which run current software.

But penny-wise and pound-foolish is a conservative watchword. Krawk!

42

The Raven 04.19.09 at 1:38 pm

Academic institutions prefer Macs, and pay well for them, IIRC, because they’re much, much, much cheaper to support than Windows systems. When I was back at StateUniversityOnATightBudget, the IT department found they were about three times cheaper to support than comparable Windows systems. Ease of use and quality design save money, and so does having current systems which run current software.

But penny-wise and pound-foolish is a conservative watchword. Krawk!

43

Patrick Nielsen Hayden 04.19.09 at 2:25 pm

Oh, I think Mitchell Rowe had entirely the right idea, as subsequent performances have established.

My own recommendation to Henry: the freeware Tofu, a text reader–a Mac equivalent to Unix pagers like “more” and “less,” except far more useful. Along with plain text, it also reads Word and RTF files, preserving their basic stylings (italics, indented sections, etc). It also displays text in columns, the width of which are set by the user. Other user settings are obvious — font, font size, leading, background color. It adds up to a hugely comfortable way to read long chunks of text on screen, vastly superior to paging through such documents with a word processor, text editor, or any other tool designed for editing rather than reading.

As an acquiring book editor, I find that Tofu is the single piece of Mac software that I could least live without–there’s no real equivalent to it on any other OS, as I rediscover to my surprise every time I use a Linux or Windows machine. (And I am far from blind to the strengths of those platforms.)

44

Henry 04.19.09 at 2:36 pm

Slocum, The reason why I bought the Pro rather than the ordinary one, for what it is worth (and it seems a bit odd to be asked to defend these choices as if I had committed a moral failing) is because in addition to writing the book, I am going to have to do a fair chunk of crunching of related data (that is what social scientists do) . I could have done that perfectly well on a PC (which has similar or better stats software) – but I wouldn’t have had access to a variety of writing tools which are Mac only, and for which there are no close cognates on the PC. So a MacBook Pro was my best available choice. I don’t see how there is anything in my post that suggests that this was an effort in conspicuous consumption or buying positional goods – instead, I was buying the best combination of operating system and tools for the stuff I want to do. All of the slavering over brushed aluminum cases etc was in your comment, not my post – I was honestly unaware of it before buying (although I did know that they are more robust to falls than the regular MacBooks, this was not a major factor in my buying decision). If I had been able to buy the operating system on its own, and installed it on my existing PC, I would have done it. This is probably responding at greater length than is warranted for an argument which seems to reduce down to ‘lefties shouldn’t buy computers that I think cost too much,’ but there you go.

And thanks to everyone else for the helpful suggestions.

45

hilzoy 04.19.09 at 2:58 pm

BBEdit is by miles the best choice for — what to call it? what I do when I want Word to get the hell out of the way, composing for html, and so on. Papers is indeed marvelous. Mori is a good little notebook program. DefaultFolderX gives you way more flexibility in Save boxes (you can set up your most frequent folders to save to, or else it will just figure out a list of places you seem to like), which is surprisingly useful. GraphicConverter is an astonishing graphics program that’s very cheap. Unless someone is buying you Photoshop, check it out first.

Finally, I have to second the recommendation to buy a Time Capsule. It is basically an airport (= wifi) base station that also backs up your computer all by itself, every hour or so (when the computer is around and active): no need to actually remember to do backups, and no issues about the backup being on the same computer that’s being backed up, which is the one drawback to Time Machine. You buy it, it works, and voila! backups.

My computer was stolen over the summer. It transformed the experience from total cosmic catastrophe into a manageable drag.

46

Righteous Bubba 04.19.09 at 3:20 pm

Note that the stripped-down free version of BBEdit is Textwrangler. It’s probably not for Henry as he’s got more complicated things to do, but it’s got grep and searching and replacing across multiple files.

47

Marc Leduc 04.19.09 at 3:42 pm

I bought my first mac (a laptop) last fall and was pleasantly surprised with the transition. I have not bought or downloaded a lot of software for it, so this thread is of great interest to me.

One question for you former Windows users (at the risk of throwing this thread off track). I’m still quite keyboard oriented and the mac doesn’t go out of its way to help me out. The single most annoying habit I can’t seem to fix is when I minimze a window (cmd-M) to the dock. Usually I am temporarily switching to another application or to Finder. Then, when I cmd-tab back to the minimized software, the program opens but the main window stays on the dock. Even if I cmd-`, the window is accessible only with the mouse.

Is there something obvious I missed or a hack/utility that can let me bring a window back using the keyboard? I throw this out because I haven’t been able to find an answer using google (too many common words). There was one trick that involved a function key but it involved multiple keystrokes. I just want to tab back to the software and have the window(s) pop back into view.

Thanks.

48

John R 04.19.09 at 4:30 pm

Mac at home, Windows at the office …

Earlier comments regarding SAS having been abandoned are correct. However, JMP, which the SAS Institute developed first for the Mac is still being upgraded in parallel to the Windows version and is much more capable than the original. Unless you’re dealing exclusively with monster files, try it. It will open SAS files along with numerous other formats. It has a very nice journal function that enables very simple saves to Word or RTF format. And I like the scripting capability for analyses that I do repeatedly on updated data. I’ve used it since V.1 and think it’s superior for exploratory analysis.

I also use and like NetNewsWire as my aggregator. You should also take a look at MarsEdit for your blogging.

SuperDuper! is a good supplement to Time Machine for your backups.

Enjoy yourself.

49

Randolph 04.19.09 at 4:41 pm

I second Patrick’s suggestion. Tofu embodies a great over-looked visual UI insight and I think all GUI reading software would be well-advised to copy it, at least if it tests out well for most users, rather than just a few cranks like us.

Hilzoy, BBedit is what is technically called a “text editor.” Text editors are among the oldest types of interactive software–WYSIWYG word processors are actually johnny-come-latelies by comparison.

50

Old-Timer 04.19.09 at 4:49 pm

“BBEdit is by miles the best choice for—what to call it? what I do when I want Word to get the hell out of the way, composing for html, and so on. “

It’s called “editing.” For raw editing power, EMACS is to everything else as a Mac truck is to a shopping cart. The learning curve is cliff-like and the peak is in the clouds. However, the latter is a feature, not a bug. Recommended for all day every day programmers or others who process raw text, as opposed to using an IDE or a word processor, and for nobody else.

51

baaker 04.19.09 at 5:01 pm

So many good suggestions offered so far…
CarbonCopyCloner for bootable backups works well and is free.
TaskPaper for GTD/to-do list management.
Take some time to explore Preview; PDF notation, though lite, is built in.

A MacBook Pro purchased today–with two graphics cards, standard–should run applications a little faster with this summer’s Snow Leopard upgrade (OpenCL support).

Economists and industrial artists, remember: Easier to use means cheaper to own.

52

Old-Timer 04.19.09 at 5:07 pm

I just tried Tofu. I love the idea. But, SERIOUS problem, at least reading PDFs it hacks up equations with a dull knife. Anyone with a workaround (for Mac OS X 10.5)?

53

dan robinson 04.19.09 at 5:07 pm

I have been using ‘vi’ in all of it’s forms since I first found it on BSD 4.2. ‘gvim’ on the mac is a great tool. It has a reputation of being a programmer’s editor, but it will also recognize other file times and does syntax highlighting. http://vim.org

Celtx is a very good tool for writing scripts. http://celtx.com/

54

dsquared 04.19.09 at 5:08 pm

for maintaining databases and carrying out statistical analysis, there’s a really useful program produced by Microsoft, called “Excel”. The same company also makes “Powerpoint”, which is the best way of summarising your research for presentations.

55

Jake 04.19.09 at 5:27 pm

@ Slocum #38:

For the most part, it’s not about the hardware — it’s about the software. If this prof is even marginally more productive by virtue of having a MBP, the extra cost will pay for itself many times over. And to the extent that it is about the hardware, it’s often about the screen, and MBPs have vastly nicer screens than other laptops.

56

Barry 04.19.09 at 5:29 pm

dsquared, Excel is no substitute for a stat package, as you yourself know. Or should I mentione your previous involvement with STATA? :)

57

Slocum 04.19.09 at 5:44 pm

Slocum, The reason why I bought the Pro rather than the ordinary one, for what it is worth…

The ‘slavering’ over the spacecraft aluminum case was text taken lifted directly from the Apple MacBook Pro web-site — did you think I’d made it up? You may not think of a MacBook Pro as a luxury, positional good but Apple clearly does. And your thoughts of matrimony certainly seemed consistent with that — such feelings must be pretty much exactly what Apple designers and marketers would be shooting for, no?

And though your pragmatic explanation is plausible, I remain skeptical. For power-user stats crunching, you’d certainly have gotten much more bang for the buck from a $500 quad-core desktop box than any $2500 dual-core laptop. And then, of course, with the number crunching taken care of cost effectively, any ordinary laptop would have been just the thing for the writing. Out the door for $1000 for both machines, no problem. You could even have left the number-cruncher in your office and remoted on to it to launch computationally intensive jobs from home or the coffee shop.

This is probably responding at greater length than is warranted for an argument which seems to reduce down to ‘lefties shouldn’t buy computers that I think cost too much,’ but there you go.

No, actually, the argument is that lefties who profess to take serious ideas about inequality and the harmfulness of positional goods ought to at least be able to recognize them when they see them. And lefties who think rich people should be taxed much more heavily to cut down on consumption of positional goods should have at least a little twinge of a problem with folks who are able to procure their own positional goods with funds that aren’t subject to any tax whatsoever (apologies if you paid out of pocket — none of the academics sporting MacBook Pros I know did so).

58

Walt 04.19.09 at 5:49 pm

Dsquared doesn’t want to admit it, but Excel is responsible for the financial crisis and the collapse of the world economy.

59

Watson Aname 04.19.09 at 7:00 pm

ChrisJ @37. TexShop isn’t actually a latex implementation, it’s just an editor front end (so you need a tex implementation as well, which you may or may not install with it by default). A lot of people like TexShop. For what it’s worth, I use emacs/auctex/reftex, as it’s the most powerful latex environment I’ve ever seen.

These days, the best thing to do on mac is probably just download the mactex bundle (the mac variant of texlive) from ctan, which I believe includes TexShop and a few others….

60

G 04.19.09 at 7:01 pm

Don’t feed the trolling.

MB Pro’s are extremely powerful computers,
equipped with better software for humanities & social science academics than,
more reliable than,
less $ to maintain than,
and more eco-friendly than

their cheaper-t0-buy Windows-running competitors.

61

David 04.19.09 at 7:19 pm

Marc—I believe you want to use cmd-H to hide the application, rather than minimizing its windows. Tabbing back to it will then bring all its windows back.

Although it isn’t entirely keyboard-based, I also recommend exposé for app-switching. Try going into System Preferences:Exposé and Spaces and setting exposé to activate when the mouse goes into screen corners. Then a quick swipe on the trackpad into a corner pops all your windows into view.

And, Slocum, this may just be me, but just for this particular post+thread it does seem like the “polite friends and neighbors” model is appropriate…

62

Slocum 04.19.09 at 7:45 pm

Or to put it another way, let us suppose that Henry chose a MacBook Pro for purely pragmatic reasons (his account of lustful feelings notwithstanding). Lefties who are concerned about positional goods, should be just as worried as ever about Henry’s MacBook Pro. Nobody, I think, can deny that Apple markets its products as expensive aspirational goods and that many people perceive them that way. Or that there are many people who lust after MacBook Pros but cannot afford them. Or that many would (justifiably or not) recognize Henry’s machine as a marker of wealth or status.

Because, if I’ve got the theory right, the problem with privileged people owning and displaying positional goods lies in the negative externalities — the effects on the people of lesser means who feel diminished by being unable to compete. Well, the negative externalities are just the same, whether or not Henry acquired the machine for purely pragmatic reasons — are they not?

So Henry should be worried about the effects on poor grad students and hand-to-mouth non-tenured lecturers seeing his exquisite new machine (which is certainly a status indicator — the University doesn’t buy them for everyone) and feeling bad about their own inadequacy and lack of status. But perhaps it’s all OK if Henry makes a point of never taking his beautiful new machine out in public. Or scratches it up badly or covers it in poorly applied, stick-on wood-grain vinyl.

63

Tosh 04.19.09 at 7:45 pm

To Marc Leduc:

Maybe this thread will help.

http://forums.macosxhints.com/archive/index.php/t-99854.html

64

Henry 04.19.09 at 7:48 pm

As it happens, Slocum, I did pay out of pocket. This is the ordinary language meaning of the word ‘bought’ (as opposed to the words ‘got my university to buy for me’, which I did not, as it happens, use). So I’ll accept your apologies when you are ready, thank you very much.

65

David 04.19.09 at 8:24 pm

Quicksilver. Still works as of latest OS version. Bookends is a good alternative to Endnote. Not as pricey and much nicer looking, too. Super Duper (or Carbon Copy Cloner) by all means. Nothing about SAS precludes using a new Mac. Run it in a Boot Camp partition or under a VM. It will probably run at least as fast. Open Office is finally Mac native, check it out.

Have fun.

66

David 04.19.09 at 8:30 pm

Also, if your Photoshop needs aren’t those of a pro or serious amateur, check out SeaShore, a native implementation of (at least some of) GIMP. Free.

67

novakant 04.19.09 at 8:38 pm

Henry, could you share your experience with the glossy screen of the MB Pro?

I’ve been waiting for them to come out with a matte version, because I will need to use it under all sorts of lighting conditions (sunlight, strong artificial lights, near darkness) and am worried that the reflection of the glossy screen will impair usability which is crucial.

Cheers

68

Charlie Stross 04.19.09 at 9:14 pm

Incidentally, on the Pro vs. ordinary Macbook front:

I bought a first-gen Macbook Pro three-plus years ago, and solid it hastily a few months (and two motherboards) later. (It ran hot enough to fry eggs, among other ailments.)

Last November I bought one of the new Aluminium unibody Macbooks. Lovely machine … until my desktop decided to blow up a month ago, while I was in finish-the-book death-march mode. After a week of staring at the 13″ screen, I bit the bullet, set fire to my credit card, and bought a new 15″ Macbook Pro.

The screen — I could feel my eyeballs unkink, just looking at it. If you do serious work on a laptop, then the Macbook Pro screen is definitely worth having (as opposed to the ordinary Macbook, unless you have an external monitor for it, in which case it ends up costing more than the Probook). It’s like going from a cheap Office Despot typist’s chair to an Aeron.

You only get the one pair of eyeballs. Why torture them with less-than-perfect display panels?

Finally, for Slocum: if the prof you’re obsessing over has replaced a 15″ G4 Powerbook with a unibody Macbook Pro, then they got at least three and a half years work out of it — more likely 4-5 years. The cheap Windows machine on a 18 month replacement cycle (because they get crudded up with malware) is a disastrous false economy.

As for me — I’m self-employed and I spend 60 hours a week on this machine. It’s a chunk of my business, and I’d no more trade it for a cheap Windows laptop than I’d choose to drive a crappy Chrysler Neon instead of a Mercedes. Your mileage may vary, obviously — taste isn’t objective — but if it makes my working life less uncomfortable I’m all in favour of it.

69

Henry 04.19.09 at 9:22 pm

I’m OK with the glossy screen so far, but a (poor, self-employed) programmer/translator friend of mine bought the 17 inch because he needed the matte option – as Charlie notes, eyeballs are valuable commodities if you are staring at a screen several hours a day.

70

Bill Gardner 04.19.09 at 9:40 pm

I have an expensive road bike. Not only does it cost way more than a good conventional bike, it is unusable for commuting, running errands, etc. Maybe it’s a positional good. But I’m also an age-group racer, and the point of racing is to go faster, and hence the exotic qualities of the bike matter for that purpose. In the way that guitarists buy expensive instruments to produce better sound. I’d defend my ownership of a 17″ MBPro the same way.

It seems crazy to think that the problem with positional goods is the goods. Isn’t it a problem with the positions, or perhaps the way we value the positions?

71

Chris Bertram 04.19.09 at 10:25 pm

I think everyone else has covered the things I’d say … I’m still using Quicksilver but will check out Launchbar.

My most intensive computer use, other than writing (TextMate/LaTeX), is photography, and here, imho Lightroom 2 is simply terrific and vastly superior to Aperture. Of course Lightroom works on both Apple and PC.

72

Kaleberg 04.19.09 at 11:06 pm

Why shouldn’t everyone be able to have luxury, positional goods? We don’t have sumptuary laws anymore reserving the high status stuff for the aristocracy. Arguing that only the super-rich, or members of some technocratic god class, or perhaps nobody, should be able to visit Paris is just puritanism, and in a particularly ugly form.

Henry may have decided to go for a fancier model. Maybe he will push its limits, maybe not. So what? Let him spoil himself a bit. He’s earned it.

73

Randolph 04.19.09 at 11:44 pm

Slocum, I’m puzzled as to what your official troll-approved academic portable would be. Macbook Pros are mid-range laptop computers, very much working academic or professional computers. The conspicuous consumers in this area buy things like high-end Sony Vaios, the MacBook Air, those decorated gamer systems, or even those English bespoke laptops. (Really.) Would you think it appropriate that the computer be deliberately uglified, like the US low-income housing of the 1960s, or deliberately made unreliable?

74

Old-Timer 04.19.09 at 11:46 pm

Someone pretending to be dsquared (who is far too intelligent and perceptive to have written this) posted:

“for maintaining databases and carrying out statistical analysis, there’s a really useful program produced by Microsoft, called “Excel”. The same company also makes “Powerpoint”, which is the best way of summarising your research for presentations.”

Excel’s inadequacies for statistical analysis have been mentioned above and well documented; no comment from me is needed. Also, Excel isn’t a database program, and using it as one can be hazardous to your data. There are plenty of real ones around, although they do need some intellectual investment to use properly. If you work with data sets of any scale and complexity either you or someone else helping you needs to make that investment.

But the real point of this post is to slam powerpoint. Everything I might want to say about this has been said more elegantly than I could, and with supporting data, by Edward Tufte. Visit his site and look up “The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint.” It’s not free, but the cover alone is worth the price.

And if you haven’t read his book The Graphical Display of Quantitive Information you’re missing an experience both enjoyable and informative. The passage of time has not lessened its relevance; everyone who presents quantitive data is doing themselves a grave disservice by remaining ignorant of its contents.

This isn’t just me; I have legions of co-signers. Nor am I in any way associated with Mr. Tufte.

75

John Quiggin 04.19.09 at 11:47 pm

Just to clean up some of Slocum’s (real or pretended) confusion, positional goods are those whose value depends on the fact that other people don’t have them. Mass produced computers are obviously not in this category, and while, for any kind of good, it’s true that some people may derive value from relative status rather than from functionality, the thread above makes it pretty clear that this isn’t the case, except maybe for Slocum. Slocum and only Slocum went on about the marketing nonsense (carved from a single block of aluminium) while everyone else has talked about useful programs. If you took Slocum’s view at 62 seriously, you would be committed to an extreme form of levelling down which, as far as I am aware, no-one endorses.

Moving on to externalities, Internet-connected computers are a network good and generate (mostly, again Slocum could count as an exception) positive externalities. The better Henry’s computer, the more CT blog-goodness he generates and the better for all of us.

76

Walt 04.20.09 at 12:48 am

Old-Timer, are you trying to directly stimulate the “contrarian” center of dsquared’s brain? Don’t think he won’t defend Powerpoint. The man is capable of anything.

77

Righteous Bubba 04.20.09 at 1:01 am

I dunno if you have to do this in more recent OS versions (I’m on 10.4.11) but go to your Applications folder, find Applescript Utility, and start it. Then choose “Show Script Menu in menu bar” and “Show Library Scripts”. You’ll wind up with access to a bunch of scripts that can be very helpful, like one for adding prefixes or suffixes to filenames and so on.

AppleScript and Automator are worth a peek anyway.

78

MarkUp 04.20.09 at 2:44 am

Giampaolo … oh, I mean Slocum left out the most importante feature, it’s sexy

This message typed on an upgraded, but never repaired cutting edge desktop G4-400 – 1.8…

79

Bill Gardner 04.20.09 at 3:00 am

The same company also makes “Powerpoint”, which is the best way of summarising your research for presentations.

I was giving a stats talk some time ago, and the projector blew. WTF, guess it’s back to the whiteboard. And the crowd loved it! My guess is that writing stimulated more, you know, thinking on the part of the presenter. And perhaps we are wired to watch people talk ‘with their hands’, and so the audience may have gotten more from watching me write. Anyway, Powerpoint is now gone by popular demand.

80

Henry 04.20.09 at 3:56 am

Not only can dsquared defend Powerpoint and Excel, but I believe that he has done so vigorously in the past …

81

Randolph 04.20.09 at 3:59 am

Bill, there’s an animation to writing mathematics on a board that isn’t usually captured by PowerPoint; perhaps this also applies in your subject. Me, I also hate the way it confines one to a rigidly linear presentation, even when that doesn’t make sense. Have ordered Tufte’s essay from our library…

82

Slocum 04.20.09 at 11:26 am

As it happens, Slocum, I did pay out of pocket. This is the ordinary language meaning of the word ‘bought’ (as opposed to the words ‘got my university to buy for me’, which I did not, as it happens, use). So I’ll accept your apologies when you are ready, thank you very much.

I think I did say apologies if you’ve paid out of pocket — but I’ll say it again — sorry that I assumed the U was paying for your machine (as is the case here for the professors I know). Although, as a libertarian, I have no particular problem with people using their own money to buy luxury goods for whatever reason they like, but I did not think that belief extended to those on the left — I am pleased to discover that it does.

Just to clean up some of Slocum’s (real or pretended) confusion, positional goods are those whose value depends on the fact that other people don’t have them. Mass produced computers are obviously not in this category…

Oh, c’mon, please, let’s be honest. OF COURSE MacBook Pros are positional goods. They were designed as positional goods. They are marketed as positional goods. They are priced as positional goods (at 4X to 6X the cost of a basic machine). Many people, especially at universities, feel a desire for them but cannot afford them (or cannot justify the expense).

Nobody would deny that a Mercedes or Lexus is not a positional good simply because it is mass produced, would they? Many, many luxury/positional goods are mass produced (sub-zero refrigerators). And many priced much less than a MacBook Pro (e.g. designer handbags for women) but are still considered status marker and are desired wanted by people who cannot afford them. In fact, goods priced in the range of MacBook Pros may be worse in the sense that poor people could never afford a new Mercedes, so seeing a Mercedes drive by may make them feel worse–but it won’t help bankrupt them. But if they really stretch out their credit limits, they might afford a designer handbag or MacBook Pro.

Do you really, seriously, honestly think that nobody feels a desire for a MacBook Pro who doesn’t have $2000 handy to satisfy that desire…or envies someone who does have the means? I’m a little boggled here — the desire for Apple products combined with a feeling of being unable to afford them is commonly acknowledged (everywhere except here, it seems). It was recently parodied on the Simpsons, for example:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRwRfYDzeqg

(Keep watching at least until you get to the ‘My Phonies’).

The denial here that MacBook Pros should be considered position goods, while frustrating, is interesting, though. It suggests those on the left don’t really take the idea very seriously (at least not when inconvenient). I should (and I suppose I do) consider that encouraging.

83

Barry 04.20.09 at 12:01 pm

Henry, I know I’m being the commenter-who-cried-Ban!, but just ban Slocum from this thread. He’s clearly just being a WATB, and is contributing nothing.

84

Danny Yee 04.20.09 at 12:36 pm

Why should the monetary cost of a laptop be of any concern from an environmental perspective? The issue here is surely the resources that went into producing the laptop.

Let us grant for the purpose of argument that Apple is selling, through marketing as positional goods, $2000 laptops that are not functionally different to laptops available for $500. If that assumption is true, then it’s likely that the production, shipping, etc. of the $2000 laptop has similar environmental costs to the $500 laptops… So I fail to see that people purchasing $2000 laptops are committing any kind of social offense, rather than just making poor purchasing decisions of only personal significance.

There’s obviously a clear environmental advantage to retaining older computers for longer, but that’s got nothing to do with the whole debate about positional goods.

85

Zamfir 04.20.09 at 1:44 pm

Slocum says:Many, many luxury/positional goods are mass produced

I think you are too easily combining luxury goods and positional goods into one category. Even if they often come together in the same product, they are very different aspects, just as a Mercedes has both a status function and a driving function.

People who argue that positional goods are problematic are not necessarily arguing against luxury in general. They are arguing that an overall increase in spending on positional goods doesn’t improve life for anyone, including the people who buy them. If those goods also have a luxury function, as is often the case, then life does improve for the buyers, but not as much as the increase in cost.

People also argue against excessive luxury in general, usually on the grounds that the extra environmental burden of such luxury items is not justified by their relatively small benefit. Bu that is another argument, and as Danny Yee notes above, a lot less relevant for Macbooks than for Benzes.

86

Henry 04.20.09 at 2:20 pm

Slocum

(1) I don’t work for a public university so you don’t need to worry about your tax dollars etc.
(2) I need the laptop for my work (thanks but no thanks for the doubtlessly expert advice on how I should just keep my desktop and buy a craptop to supplement it – since this was a big purchase for me you can take it as advised that I weighed the options carefully).
(3) I neither knew nor cared about the aluminum what-have-you.
(4) You don’t understand what a positional good is or what the relevant debate is. As best as I can make out, you define a positional good as any good that someone, somewhere, might be jealous of.
(5) I have never, as best as I know, pronounced on the evil of positional goods, even in the sense that you evidently don’t understand. It is not a topic I care about particularly (beyond being mildly annoyed at the Financial Times’ How To Spend It supplement being folded in with my Saturday newspaper). If I am wrong on that, show me where.
(6) You don’t know how to apologize. When you start tossing around offensive accusations of hypocrisy etc, based on an assumption that is completely and tendentiously wrong, you don’t say ‘sorry, but I am still right because ….’ You say ‘sorry.’ You should try it someday. It’s easier than it seems.
(7) What you really need to do is to is to go to your friend who bought the laptop that annoyed you so, and tell him that he doesn’t deserve it, rather than trying to exorcise your hang-ups by haranguing random peoples on the internets in an annoying and anti-social way. Perhaps organize a public denunciation or a letter writing campaign, if you are that worked up about it.

But apart from all that, you’re doing great! !

87

Bill Gardner 04.20.09 at 2:21 pm

Let’s move past the positional good argument. The more troubling question, for me, is Peter Singer’s ‘easy rescue’ argument. That is, I could have bought an Acer instead of a MacBook and given the difference to an effective NGO who in turn could have used it to save a child’s life. Let’s say that the difference was more or less $1K, and that this is the marginal cost of saving a child’s life at the right NGO. Do I have any good reasons for not having done this?

88

Bill Gardner 04.20.09 at 2:26 pm

Randolph, I agree about the animation factor or writing on the board, although perhaps it is really a passivity factor in presenting via Powerpoint.

And if memory serves, statistics sur Excel are best served with Budweiser.

89

Slocum 04.20.09 at 4:12 pm

(4) You don’t understand what a positional good is or what the relevant debate is. As best as I can make out, you define a positional good as any good that someone, somewhere, might be jealous of.

Perhaps you could point out the confusion, then. I will say that some people believe that positional good can only be something that is inherently limited, like Manhattan real-estate or Harvard admissions and that market goods are never positional goods. But that does not seem to be the common usage. So for example:

Obviously, the surfeit of ads doesn’t help, especially since many ads emphasize positional goods, or products whose appeal is that they signal your social position. When someone wears a Rolex watch – a classic positional good – they don’t make themselves happy (their brain has already adapted to the luxury good) but they do manage to raise the expectations of everybody wearing less expensive watches. These people now feel inferior, since their Timex has been devalued by the costlier item.

http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2008/08/unhappiness_and_advertising.php

That writer thinks that a Rolex is not only a positional good, but a ‘classic positional good’. So if I’m confused in considering luxury cars, yachts, private aircraft, diamonds, and the like as positional goods — well that confusion does seem widespread. But if the problem with positional goods is the negative externalities produced by the status competition, I don’t see that the difference between a two million dollar Manhattan co-op and a two million dollar Hinckley yacht is a crucial one.

(5) I have never, as best as I know, pronounced on the evil of positional goods, even in the sense that you evidently don’t understand. It is not a topic I care about particularly (beyond being mildly annoyed at the Financial Times’ How To Spend It supplement being folded in with my Saturday newspaper). If I am wrong on that, show me where.
(6) You don’t know how to apologize. When you start tossing around offensive accusations of hypocrisy etc, based on an assumption that is completely and tendentiously wrong, you don’t say ‘sorry, but I am still right because ….’ You say ‘sorry.’ You should try it someday. It’s easier than it seems.

I’m sorry — I did not mean to make it about you personally, and I admit I don’t know what you have said about positional goods in the past. But I do have the sense that positional goods are something that the CT community was interested in, and find it curious that all can jump from discussions of inequality to the joys of high-end goods without batting an eye. I was hoping responses along the lines of Bill Gardner’s in 87. Obviously, given that I engage here, I must have a thick skin (I’m called a evil troll pretty routinely). And I make the mistake of assuming other people respond to things as I do. Which often fails (but it’s not enough to know others react differently, you also have to be able to accurately simulate and anticipate their likely reactions — that’s harder — especially when not face to face). I’m sorry I came off as haranguing.

90

Bill Obermeyer 04.20.09 at 4:26 pm

I’m late to the party here, but this is a list of (mostly) free software.
Try some of the utilities and Papers. Download anything else that you might need. Get the others as you need them – or for amusement. I’ve left out links because with all the great free software it’s too easy to get sucked into trying new programs, even if you have to search for them.

I’ve divided my choices for apps into categories. (all freeware except where noted)

widgets – nice to have at a keystroke
PEMDAS – a nice little calculator
qwikConvert – minimalist units coversion
Translator – interface to web translator
ResearchInMotion – for weather
Character Pal from taco widgets – quick reference to key combinations for special characters from keyboard, or in HTML (Donations Encouraged)

Utilities
Perian – lets QuickTime play back more formats
TinkerTool – let’s you tweak some aspects of OS-X that are normally hidden or difficult. Try it.
Onyx – similar to Tinker Tool but accessible from System Preferences.
Lingon – interface lets you schedule programs or scripts to run at regular (or even somewhat irregular) times
Handbrake – Convert video formats
ServiceScrubber – That “Services” menu is useful, but it becomes cluttered with items you no longer want. This let’s you fix that.
CarbonCopyCloner – backup. Not nearly as necessary now that Time Machine is readily available. Still not a bad idea, like a belt with suspenders.

Apps
Firefox

R – for statistics – it’s the best, if you need it.

JabRef or BibDesk – good reference managers for BibTex ( there are other good payware solutions, BibDesk and Sente. Pick your poison)
Papers – Search for papers and organize, read and annotate pdf’s. Doesn’t connect refs with any word processor. Who cares. You can export to BibTex or RIS (or EndNoteXML or CSV or…) If the papers in your field are accessible from its interface, try it. Try it anyway. I find that it has dramatically improved that part of my workflow. (Shareware mekentosj.com, unrestricted 30 day trial)
(Zotero does similar things, but Papers really seems to work _much_ better for me, Skim is good for annotating pdf’s if you don’t use papers)

Scrivener – (+ Multi Markdown)
Journler – more generalized note taking and scrapbook
Yojimbo – similar with decent storage for passwords and support for synching with me.com (Shareware)
Evernote – similar but not as good as Yojimbo on passwords. synchs everywhere. has surprisingly good OCR
(Circus Ponies Notebook and NoteTaker are both good with a somewhat different user interface)

Bean – nice minimal word processor.
OpenOffice (or NeoOffice) – to deal with the omnipresent MS-Office stuff.
Magic Number Machine – nice calculator

CocoaMySQL – good MySQL interface (if you need such a thing)
Sequel Pro – successor to CocoaMySQL.
MySQLGui – to the previous two, but not as powerful. Occasionally useful.

Smultron – good text editor
TextWrangler – excellent text editor – good multifile search and replace, good grep
TextMate – my favorite text editor at the moment (Shareware)

VLC – very flexible video playback
Audacity – audio recording and manipulation

Games & Graphics
Quinn – (aka Tetris)
Google Earth – better every time I use it
Intaglio – good way to assemble, create and tweak graphics of several kinds (Shareware)
Blender – only if your need 3 D video
Gimp
SecuritySpy – monitoring web enabled or hard wired cameras. Good interface. (Shareware)

91

Henry 04.20.09 at 4:38 pm

On positional goods, let me Google that for you.

As for the rest, when you come out with sarcastic guff like:

The very same kind of machines used to build mission-critical spacecraft components? Say no more. How could a social democrat write a new book on anything less exquisite? I am lead to wonder, though, if there will be any discussion about discouraging wasteful spending on positional goods in the new book…

please don’t expect to be able to play the wounded innocent who was only interested in encouraging substantive conversation downthread and expect to get away with it.

92

watson aname 04.20.09 at 5:22 pm

Another way that Slocum’s attack is off-base is that it really has nothing much to do with apple, per se, but it’s worded that way.

There are $500 laptops, and there are $2500 laptops. They really aren’t interchangeable. Apple doesn’t happen to make any $500 ones, but in the $1000-$3000 range they are very roughly comparable with windows based machines at the same price point. If you want approximately the class of machine from another major laptop retailer, you aren’t going to pay much less than the mac (you will typically, but not always, pay a little less). In a TCO sense, you may well pay more for the windows laptop, but this of course depends on you usage and how much software you have to buy (or can avoid buying) for your use, and how much time the machine eats on non-productive work (virus/setup/install/reinstall/etc. issues). If you do the numbers properly (and I have, several times) the “apple tax” as they put it, is pretty small. Somewhat higher if you make the mistake of ordering a memory upgrade from apple.

So I found it interesting that while you could perhaps make a case for the use of more expensive laptops being a luxury (I don’t think it would hold much water, we’re talking about typically less than $1000/yr here on a machine facilitating the work of someone who costs a lot more than that), it’s really inept to state it as an apple vs. pc issue.

[As an aside, the idea that typical state universities are buying many professors macbook pros is laughable. I'm sure there is an example or two around, but treating this as a concerning usage of taxpayers money is at best an expression of ignorance.]

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AcademicLurker 04.20.09 at 5:41 pm

It’s a real stretch to take the difference between a $2,500 Macbook pro and a $1,000-$1,500 windows machine and compare that to the difference between a $100 watch and a $15,000 Rolex.

Particularly since there are non-trivial differences in the performance of the different laptops and no such difference between watches (at least I’ve never heard anyone claim that a Rolex really does tell the time more effectively than a well put together $100 watch).

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watson aname 04.20.09 at 5:59 pm

Honestly, AcedemicLurker, the last time I ran the numbers it was more like a $2700 m-b-p compared to a bunch of roughly $2300-3000 windows laptops that were actually comparable once you look that the details. I couldn’t find a comparable one for less than that, and the lowest of them were very much offbrand. Of course, all those numbers are pretty time sensitive, and these ones are a generation out of date. In that particular case, the $400 potential savings would have been mostly eaten immediately by a need to buy a development environment on windows that we could avoid on the mac…

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Randolph 04.20.09 at 6:09 pm

Slocum, a MacBook Pro is not a luxury good. The marketing puffery sounds impressive, that’s all. You can find the same kind of puffery in Chevy’s or Honda’s marketing literature.

Now a MacBook Air, that’s another story. Even then, for people with disabilities it may not be a luxury at all–the lightness can be a big virtue for people with back, shoulder, arm, or hand injuries. I carry a MacBook Pro on my back every day. It’s like like being a modern tinker, with the tools of my trade literally on my back. Tools can be expensive, but a lot of mechanics just scraping by still have good tools–there’s no substitute. Rich would be able to afford two desktops+a light laptop+three sets of software. & my knees would thank me!

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ppm 04.20.09 at 6:16 pm

Sente which is fantastic for bibliography work and keeping a database of downloaded papers. Much better, much faster, much less buggy than EndNote.
Skim as a pdf viewer. Much better than Adobe
Pages to replace Word. (keynote is ok, but not quite ready for general use) Pages renders on the screen so much better than word, much less eye strain for me anyway. Also faster boot and its never crashed.

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Henry 04.20.09 at 6:30 pm

The one place where there is a sort-of issue here though is that Apple while broadly comparable on price to laptops with similar features does a bit more bundling than the average PC laptop. That is, if you want a machine with as much memory and processor power as a MacBook Pro, but don’t want to pay for the aluminum casing, you can likely find something in the PC world, but are obviously out of luck if you want a Mac. So if you want some nicer features, you will get a bunch of other nicer features bundled in too, like it or not – for obvious reasons, there is not the same degree of separability of choices as there would be if you had lots of different manufacturers building for the Apple OS. You can obviously make a case that this is justifiable over all, given the superior hardware/OS integration and all of that, but it is a trade-off.

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watson aname 04.20.09 at 6:38 pm

That’s a fair point, Henry. Apple doesn’t have anything equivalent to dial-a-Dell going on. I’m not sure how often this is actually an issue, but I can see someone wishing for a machine somewhere between a macbook and a macbook pro or whatever, and having no option.

ppm:
Skim as a pdf viewer. Much better than Adobe

What do you need from Skim that preview doesn’t do, these days?

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Slocum 04.20.09 at 6:39 pm

On positional goods, let me Google that for you.

You might specify exactly what I had to say about positional goods lead you to believe that I was wholly unfamiliar with the concept. You’ll note that on that topic, I am making arguments and posting references, whereas you are just tossing off insults. OK — fine — you’ve done that. And now given that you’ve taken the trouble to respond a few times, you might take a little trouble to explain.

please don’t expect to be able to play the wounded innocent who was only interested in encouraging substantive conversation downthread and expect to get away with it.

Let’s put it this way — to most posters here who are of the left, CT is friendly environment. For a libertarian, it is not. Somebody once said that when flying low cost airlines, that you need to make sure you’ve got your body armor. Same goes here. Abuse is expected — that’s just the price of engaging in debate on left leaning sites. But I still do it because I do find the exchange interesting. Well, sometimes, anyway. And of the left-leaning sites I know, CT is the most civil by a pretty fair margin–on the others, it’s not even worth bothering.

Now you might say that it’s just me — could be — but I don’t know of any others of a libertarian persuasion who post in the comments and don’t run into the same thing. No, I’m not saying I’m a ‘wounded innocent’, I’m saying I expect it to be rough around here. So I generally ignore the insults and try to have a bit of debate in the midst. And sometimes it works. Eventually, I suppose, it won’t seem worth it and I’ll wander off for the duration (or one of you will save me the trouble and ban me). And no, obviously I won’t expect any tears to be shed.

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Kieran Healy 04.20.09 at 6:42 pm

Apple doesn’t compete in all segments of the market. It’s as simple as that, really. If you do head-to-head/feature-to-feature comparisons, Apple is generally competitive, even without considering stuff like build quality, customer support and the OS. But you will always be able to find cheaper computers, and also always find cheaper build-to-order hardware with some particular combination of features that better suits your specific needs, while leaving other things out.

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Henry 04.20.09 at 7:37 pm

Slocum – you didn’t come into this with an argument – you came into this with a personal attack on me. And one which was based on no evidence whatsoever, and which instead seemed to be motivated by your annoyance with a friend who had his university buy him a laptop that you felt was more powerful than he needed. And as wikipedia and several other links that I have kindly googled for you note, a positional good (as defined in Fred Hirsch’s book, where the argument about positional goods was first articulated), is one whose value to its owner primarily or entirely rests on the fact that other people can’t have it. If you could have pointed to _any evidence whatsoever_ in my post that this was why I valued the laptop, you might have had an argument. But you didn’t. Since the rest of your ‘contribution’ to this thread consists of specious redefinitions of the term positional good to dig yourself out of the pit that you have dug for yourself, repeated insinuations of bad faith on my part, and concerted refusal to acknowledge in any way, shape or form that large numbers of people seem to like MacBook Pros not because they can make their neighbours jealous, but because they find them good tools to work with, you are quite right in suggesting that you won’t be missed if you take yourself to other parts. On the evidence of this discussion, we won’t be missing much at all.

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Slocum 04.20.09 at 10:59 pm

And as wikipedia and several other links that I have kindly googled for you note, a positional good (as defined in Fred Hirsch’s book, where the argument about positional goods was first articulated), is one whose value to its owner primarily or entirely rests on the fact that other people can’t have it.

But that’s not quite right — Here’s sentence number one from the Wiki article:

Positional goods are products and services whose value is mostly (if not exclusively) a function of their ranking in desirability, in comparison to substitutes.

Of course, it’s always a matter of degree to what extent the value of a product is a function of it’s position in the status hierarchy of like products. And that varies from person to person and situation to situation.

If you could have pointed to any evidence whatsoever in my post that this was why I valued the laptop.

I thought your jokingly expressed feelings of matrimony suggested something other than pure pragmatism. But the point is that even if a $2500 Mac Laptop is not a positional good for you — it is perceived that way by many people (who own but don’t need them or who want but can’t afford them). That this is common knowledge is pretty obvious in the humor of the Simpson’s clip. I find your denial that a $2500 laptop could be considered a positional good in any way, shape, form, or situation to be, well, disappointing in that it seems like a denial of the blatantly obvious.

And are people always fully aware of their motivations for buying things? Do they never engage in self-deception when explaining to themselves why they ‘need’ something that they want for emotional reasons — which reasons may be related to status? I try to avoid deceiving myself that way, but I’m sure I’m not entirely successful.

…you are quite right in suggesting that you won’t be missed if you take yourself to other parts.

I can’t say an exchange like this raises my blood pressure exactly, but I do find it intruding when I ought to be focusing on other things. So yeah — let’s call it a day.

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Henry 04.20.09 at 11:19 pm

You appear to have overlooked the next few sentences in the article, which got at Hirsch’s argument rather more clearly.

“The measure of satisfaction derived from a positional good depends on how much one has in relation to everyone else. Competitions for positional goods are zero-sum games because such goods are inherently scarce, at least in the short run. Attempts to acquire them can only benefit one player at the expense of others. By definition, every person cannot be the most popular, cool, or elite, in the same way that every person cannot be a star athlete – all of those terms imply a separation or superiority over other people.”

And I find your denial that the accepted definition of positional good actually means something very different from what your argument requires it to mean, to be, well, disappointing in that it seems like a denial of the blatantly obvious.

And indeed people are not always aware of their motivations for doing things. But you have neither evidence nor any actual argument that my motives were what you suggested them to be rather than what I stated. In other words, my sekrit desire to humiliate grad students by flaunting my computer at em has exactly the same degree of evidentiary support as your pathological need to argue with lefties because of your series of humiliating romantic fiascos with liberals of various descriptions.

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Righteous Bubba 04.20.09 at 11:21 pm

I thought your jokingly expressed feelings of matrimony suggested something other than pure pragmatism.

Where on the appreciation scale should my vice-grip fit? I really like it because it’s useful in a lot of circumstances, but, you know, should I like it less because I can go out and buy another with pocket change?

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MarkUp 04.21.09 at 12:46 am

”Positional goods are products and services whose value is mostly (if not exclusively) a function of their ranking in desirability, in comparison to substitutes.”

I wished I coulda had could have a V8 instead of tomato paste.

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Not GA Cohen 04.21.09 at 1:38 am

Shorter threadjacking…If you’re an egalitarian, how come you’re so rich?

Sorry, I thought I could hold it in.

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JulesLt 04.21.09 at 1:46 am

Utilities–> Grapher is interesting

Most of the other apps I’d recommend have been covered, but I’ve found OmniGraphSketcher to be useful lately for creating diagrams than neither OmniGraffle or Vector Art programs produce easily.

As for Slocum’s posts – I found the first one funny, and more gentle teasing, rather than insulting. It’s a fair enough observation, and I’m sure it actually applies to most things bought by anyone on the Left earning over the average wage, right down to organic or Fair Trade food, or cultural consumption. Ironically, the only way to escape that accusation is probably to shop only in Walmart, etc.

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Karn 04.21.09 at 8:57 am

This is a classic case.
“If you go Mac, you never go back”

Having LiquidCD for free CD and DVD burner software will be a lot helpful when you want to burn data CD or DVD.

Enjoy.

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Patrick Nielsen Hayden 04.21.09 at 11:33 am

Marc Leduc, #47: ” The single most annoying habit I can’t seem to fix is when I minimze a window (cmd-M) to the dock. Usually I am temporarily switching to another application or to Finder. Then, when I cmd-tab back to the minimized software, the program opens but the main window stays on the dock. Even if I cmd-`, the window is accessible only with the mouse. Is there something obvious I missed or a hack/utility that can let me bring a window back using the keyboard?”

No, you haven’t missed anything obvious, and yes, there is a fix. Witch is a $9.95 “System Preferences” pane, the main purpose of which is to provide a more powerful alternative to the business of switching between open programs with Cmd-Tab. On my Witch-equipped system, when I hit Alt-Tab, I get a list in the middle of my screen of, not open programs, but rather of open windows, which is much more useful in my view. Here’s how it solves your problem: if a window is open but minimized to the Dock, Alt-Tabbing to it with Witch will re-open it.

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Barry 04.21.09 at 5:49 pm

JulesLt 04.21.09 at 1:46 am

“As for Slocum’s posts – I found the first one funny, and more gentle teasing, rather than insulting. It’s a fair enough observation, and I’m sure it actually applies to most things bought by anyone on the Left earning over the average wage, right down to organic or Fair Trade food, or cultural consumption.”
It’s common, but it’s rather falacious – in the discussion on inequality, Henry was not trying to introduce New American Socialist Man, with everybody earning the same amount of money and wearing the same fatigues. Nobody was. The issue was how large a share of the GDP does a very small minority get. The analogy would be if Henry was against meth or crack, and Slocum was ragging on him for talking about a nice new brand of wine he’d found, under the grounds that they’re all intoxicants.

” Ironically, the only way to escape that accusation is probably to shop only in Walmart, etc.”

At which point one is open to accusations of being driven by the lowest price, so how does one criticize Wal-Mart for providing the lowest priced goods?

In the end, it was all a pile of BS.

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Old-Timer 04.22.09 at 2:08 am

To Marc @47:
Another idea (besides Witch) is to stop using cmd-M. If instead you use cmd-H (hide) the application will vanish. However, when you tab to it the hidden windows re-appear.

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