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John Gruber of Daring Fireball wondered if there were any “testbed virtual hosting utilities” for OS X like Headdress and VirtualHostX. I only knew of the first, but I stopped using it when I realized how easy doing this actually was. Warning: geekery ahead. )

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When I moved out to California, I had two computers: a PowerBook G4 laptop, and a Celeron 433. (Yes, for those of you who thought I only used Macs, it’s true—I was a PC user for much longer, although half the time I wasn’t running Windows.) Even in 2002, the Celeron was showing its age, of course, and I don’t think I actually even turned it on out here except to verify that it still worked. In October 2003, I bought a PowerMac G5 desktop, and have had it since.

Since I bought it, though, my working style has changed—I’m on laptops almost exclusively. My personal laptop is also my work “desktop” these days just by bringing it into the office and hooking up the external monitor and keyboard. The desktop machine still gets used every day, but it gets used as a remote server via SSH and a jukebox. The only advantages it has over the laptop are a bigger monitor and a better graphics card.

Of course, computers go out of fashion fast these days, and with the switch from PowerPC to Intel, Macs shifted faster than most.1 The G5 isn’t as outdated as the Celeron, to be sure, but it has only 512M of RAM—these days it needs 2G to be useful—and its graphics card is, in retrospect, pretty anemic (and there aren’t many choices for replacing it). So there’s not much that it does that the laptop doesn’t—and it’s rather inconvenient to use, bhy comparison.

Last year I bought a MacBook shortly after it started shipping and I’ve liked it—but its graphics, from the integrated GMA950 chip, are even more anemic than the G5’s. I kept thinking about upgrading the desktop so I could use it at home; there are ergonomic advantages to it, after all. And the one complaint I’ve started to have about the laptop is its comparatively small screen. (Using it with the external LCD at work makes programming a lot easier.)

Upgrading would involve getting a new monitor, more than likely, to replace the huge CRT. But it would almost definitely involve getting more RAM. And it would involve getting a better graphics card.

These thoughts made me consider just getting a new desktop, period. But the thought of getting an über-laptop did occur to me, and kept sticking in the back of my mind. Keep the G5 in its current role indefinitely, and get a new machine that consolidated all my work, with a bigger screen and better GPU. Perhaps if an upgrade came out to the MacBook Pro line…

Well, yesterday, one did, and yes, I’m afraid I ran out and bought one.

This still doesn’t solve the monitor problem, but one big expense at a time.

I’ll be selling the original MacBook, once I make sure everything I need is off of it and find all the appropriate niggly bits.

Oh. I’m not sure what to call the new computer; my line of Macs so far have been named after appearance, roughly speaking (“habanero” for an orange iBook, “parmesan” for the G5 with its grater-like front). It’s tentatively “tincan,” but I’m open to suggestions.


1. One of the many peculiar pissing matches PC and Mac people get into is over “lifespan” of the computers, with partisans pulling out software written twenty years ago and claiming they can still run it so can you top that fanboy. Reality check: nobody runs 20-year-old PC and Mac software except in fits of nostalgia, or to prove that they can. (N.B.: do not start a pissing match here.)

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Design nerdery

In the past couple weeks I’ve made tentative steps toward the new Claw & Quill design. I think I read too much about good software design practices, and one school of thought which boils down to, “Don’t worry too much about the look and feel first,” with the corollary advice of, “Don’t start designing the UI on the computer first thing because it’ll encourage you to lock the design down too early.” All well and good, but I brainstorm better by moving things around on the screen. Given what C&Q’s going to aspire to be, I need to pull off a hat trick in UI terms: it needs to be powerful enough to meet the needs of several classes of users while remaining simple enough that it isn’t intimidating, so I’m going to be playing around a while—and I’m not up for the retro-hipster approach of doing it all on paper and moving around pieces with scissors and tape. (I’ve seen variants on that advice more than once, but c’mon, does anyone really do that?)

Mac nerdery

I’ve been on something of a Mac utility buying binge the last week or so. Since some of you are Mac users, here’s a brief mention:

  • Path Finder, a quasi-replacement for the Mac Finder. Something of a power user toy, but I’ve found myself using its special powers regularly enough that a purchase was called for.
  • Intaglio, a drawing program that’s sort of a reincarnation of the old MacDraw. You could think of it as being to Illustrator what Paint Shop Pro is to Photoshop. (There’s a better-known competitor to Intaglio called LineForm with a couple unique features, but Intaglio has better typographic control, which I need.)
  • Painter’s Picker. Did you know the system-wide color picker can accept plugins? Neither did I. This is a great little widget for building up complementary (or clashing!) palette schemes based on classic color theory.

Blog nerdery

Last but not least, have you ever heard of “Tumblelogs?” Jason Kottke describes Tumblelogs as:

… a quick and dirty stream of consciousness, a bit like a remaindered links style linklog but with more than just links. They remind me of an older style of blogging, back when people did sites by hand, before Movable Type made post titles all but mandatory, blog entries turned into short magazine articles, and posts belonged to a conversation distributed throughout the entire blogosphere.

A “linklog” is something I’ve seen before, of course; [ profile] haikujaguar has been doing one for years (“Micah’s Mine”). Most tumblelogs I’ve seen look like projectionist, which is to say that they look like something 37signals would build if they got really blasted (“even more rounded corners! everything green pastel! make that body font one billion points! Wicked!”).

I’ve toyed with the idea of setting up one. I really often do think of blog entries as short magazine articles; I don’t just throw up links and quotes and random crap. After listening to a recent podcast with Merlin Mann going on about them, though, and mentioning a “tumblelog in five minutes!” kind of site, I figured: why not. It would be an adjunct to my journal, not a replacement.

So, with little fanfare, I present: Coyote Tracks, my tumblelog. (It actually took an hour or so last night of hacking to make it look less ugly.) It should have an RSS feed for those of you so enabled. (This means someone could set up a syndicated feed for you to “friend” in LiveJournal, but I haven’t yet.) I expect Coyote Tracks to be considerably more random and wide-ranging in content. I’ll do my best to make sure anything “work unsafe” or potentially inflammatory is obvious, but—as is always true—if you don’t like a link, don’t click on it. I won’t be offended.

Coyote Tracks:

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A few months ago I wrote about having picked up the book Getting Things Done. Since I don’t have the excuse of no free time now, I spent the last couple of days using a GTD plugin for Mori, a strange notebook/outliner program I have.

Does “GTD” work? It has a strong geek following: it’s an engineering approach to task management, built on the premise that what we actually manage isn’t time or projects but rather actions. The Excursion Society MUCK is a project of mine, but the individual actions I need to take for it involve better testing of the web interface, beating old Bandari players into getting onto ESM, beating myself into finishing porting pieces of Bandari over to ESM, etc. GTD is a formalization of the common sense notion that you get things done by breaking them down into small concrete steps and taking them one at a time—it’s a guide to turning your projects into actions, and then managing those actions. The idea is to get things “captured” on paper and thus out of your head, breaking the worry loop cycle. (There’s an explicitly acknowledged Zen component to the GTD approach: “mind like water” is the mental state you manage for. That also appealed to me.)

All well and good, but does “GTD” work for me? Outlook hazy. Ask again later. If I manage to make checking my “next action list” a habit, and make a habit of sticking everything I need to do, want to do, or think might be something to look at doing into my GTD notebook, I’ll have a good test for it. For the whole three days I’ve been doing this, it’s been working. I’m feeling some mild sense of accomplishment, which is definitely a positive thing.

I really am planning to advertise ESM, but that’ll be in its own forthcoming message. (Initially I’m just going to “advertise” here on my own journal.) One of my hopes for GTD is that it’ll clear enough mental underbrush away that I’ll be able to focus on my other projects better. Famous last words, I suppose. Even so, some little things that I’ve been failing to get done for months have been done now, and other ones are being captured.

In other news: a “next action” for today—now completed—was getting a writing sample together for an interview tomorrow. It sounds like this is with a company looking for ad hoc, project-based technical writing, not an offer of steady work, but I’ll see. I’ve also gotten a contact from someone at the company I did the 15-month contract for that took up all of 2005 and more, although my impression from the job description is that they’re looking for someone who’ll have specific technical skills I lack. Even so, I’ll review it and probably send a résumé.

My lost paychecks still haven’t arrived; in theory they’ll be sent to the personnel company’s office and I’ll pick them up directly Monday or Tuesday. I’m hoping I’ll hear from the unemployment office next week, too. In the interim, I’ve been doing the equivalent of looking for lost coins under the sofa. The little ad hoc subcontract I’d been working on is finished, from what I can tell, with just 15 billable hours. But I suspect I could probably make a living wage with just 15-20 hours a week if the rates were high enough (these weren’t, quite).

Final odd toy of the moment: I’m also playing with WriteRoom, a freeware program from Mori’s creator. It’s a simple fullscreen text editor, whose premise is “writing without distraction.” I’m not convinced that this sort of thing is necessary—one can, after all, hide the windows one isn’t writing in, and turn off e-mail and instant messaging programs—but this is an elegant implementation of the idea. I have to say that there is something focusing about having nothing but text in front of me. I frequently stop when writing to collect my thoughts, and I don’t have the opportunity to be distracted by anything else on the computer. There may be something to be said for that.


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February 2018

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