Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Old Dogs and New Tricks

My parents were very generous to me. After I earned my doctorate, they gave me $10K to buy a new car. (In graduate school I drove a car affectionately known as the Ruster Duster, which I also used my first year at Illinois.) So in early fall of 1981, I bought my first car - a new silver/gray Honda Accord. The thing is, it had a stick shift (which I got for the fuel economy). I didn’t know how to drive a stick at the time. Buying the car forced me to learn. For the next 15 years or so I probably road the clutch too much during turns, but I managed.

So with that thought in mind, let me talk about the first few days with my new iMac G5. I bought this for two reasons. First, and most importantly to me, I decided that in my office I didn’t want to look at the screen of my Tablet. I wanted a big screen, so I could make the font big and read it easily, particularly late in the day as it is now. I got the 20” version and that certainly is nicer to work with. And though I do dearly love my Tablet PC, one thing it doesn’t do well is produce audio. Now I’m sitting here listening to classical music radio while I write this post. That’s a nice touch.

The other thing I wanted to try was the various applications that the Writing with Video project, an innovative project on my campus, will be using with an eye toward learning whether the Mac is really better for Media production. (Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder I meant this to be my own personal beauty contest, not a scientific study.)

One of those applications is Pages - part of the iWorks suite along with Keynote. If Keynote is Apple’s version of PowerPoint on Steroids, then Pages is the analog for Word. So far I’ve only used it in blank format. There are quite a few templates that would be useful for doing text plus image documents and likewise text plus video documents.

The way I’m using it now is simply to write the blog posts and then copy and paste over into the textbox for my blog at Blogger.com. I’ve used Word for the same function in the past, so a few observations just based on that simple use. Habits formed over a long period of time are hard to break and one habit I have is using the Control key for select all, copy, and paste. On the Mac, that’s the wrong key, one must use the Apple key instead. Now it is clear from a prior design point of view, using either key is equally arbitrary, so I certainly don’t blame Apple for this. But having done this for such a long time it is as if the memory is in my left pinky and otherwise I do this without thinking. So in just a couple days use of the Mac, I must have done at least two dozen times attempts at copying that didn’t work. Then when I go back to do it correctly I must do this with conscious effort and make myself aware of something I would normally take for granted. It is a good lesson for me about changing any technology even if the successor is better (and for me in this test the Jury won’t even start to meet for a month), there will be switching costs such as this that will irk the user.

I have a couple of other minor gripes. The pages software as I have it set up does single space within paragraph and then hitting the return key puts a line space between paragraphs. When I copy the document and paste into the Blogger text box, the line space between paragraphs is not there. So I have to put in two returns. That is not itself a big deal. But in Word, I was able to understand that return holding the Shift key down was a line break. That seems to be the case in Pages as well. But when I paste that into Blogger, it looks the same as if the Shift key were not used. Hmmm. Another issue is that hyperlinks I insert in Pages do not carry over to the Blogger text box. Maybe they would if I changed my settings. But at present I’m not sure how to do this. One last grumble. Word has the grammar checker in addition to the spell checker. I’ve come to like those squiggly green lines because I use passive voice way too much and sometimes make other awkward constructions. So I’m less happy that Pages has only the spell checker. It’s not the end of the world, just an observation.

I want to talk about another issue, which is doing my own trouble shooting and learning. On the PC I was pretty far along with self-support and would only rarely ask someone else for help, preferring to solve the issue myself (typical male thing). On the Mac, I’m at a loss to find the information so I got a little frustrated when I couldn’t solve my problem. For example, on Saturday I downloaded and installed NeoOffice, an Open Office alternative for the Mac and something I wanted to try to see if I could use it “seamlessly” in my business dealings. (We share a lot of Word docs and Excel spreadsheets.) But at the moment AppleWorks is the default for files with a .doc or .xls extension. So I’d like to change that. I’m sure it is a simple command. But which simple command? I didn’t find the answer in the Apple help nor in a couple of quick Google searches. This doesn’t mean the help isn’t there. It just means I didn’t find it. And I’m an impatient searcher, only occasionally a diligent one. (Also NeoOffice didn’t display bullets in a Word document in a nice way. That was disappointing.)

I have yet to use the built in microphone and iSight camera. Nor have I played with iMovie or iPhoto. So I’m a long way from saying - go back to the PC. But I am wary about how I will do with email and calendaring (I currently use Outlook on our Campus Exchange server.)

The funny thing is that I was a Mac guy for 10 years. But I switch in the late 90s, in large part because my friends in Econ were all PC folks. Now I’m at the point of buying my own Honda Accord. But I’m a lot older than I was 24 years ago.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I agree with the cryptic way file associations are changed. In case you didn't find the solution, here it is. Right-(or ctrl)click the file and click Get Info. In the Info window that appears, choose the desired program under Open with: (you may have to expand the option by clicking the triangle) and click the button labelled Change All....