For years I’ve maintained a page of Macintosh Tips and Tricks. It’s one of the most referenced pages on my blog, so someone must be using it, despite the fact that it was only up to date for Mac OS 10.5. I’ve finally gotten around to updating it for my current world. I hope it continues to be useful.
Yesterday MacHeist started offering pre public beta access to Tweetie 2 for Mac. That caught my eye because Syrinx, my primary Twitter client has been a little slow at keeping up with Twitter features. I didn’t really want to get the MacHeist bundle (don’t want to hassle with packages that I don’t want) just to get the private beta, but I mentioned on Twitter that I was thinking about it. Several folks suggested that I try Echofon. I gave it a whirl, found some things that I like and other that I didn’t. I started keeping notes about Syrinx vs Echofon, and now it’s turned into a blog post.
My usage style / requirements
I follow a bunch of people, including many people who live in Europe who tweet while I am asleep. I need a client that can remember unread tweets from overnight. I’ve found very few clients that are able to do this. My reading style tends to be bursty as well, so I want the client to do a good job of keeping track of what I’ve read and what I have not. These two requirements are what has kept me on Syrinx – it can hold days worth of tweets without a problem. Syrinx’s bookmark also gives me definite way of marking what has been read and what has not, and puts control of that mark directly in my hands.
The other major requirement is that I spend some time (probably too much) on airplanes, without net access. I want a client (mostly on my iPhone) that can go back in fill in the gaps left by being in the air. Tweetie 2 for the iPhone can do this, but the experience of switch back and forth between reading the stream on desktop Syrinx and iPhone Tweetie 2 is annoying.
A minor requirement is to be able to monitor a number of Twitter searches at once – that means opening a window for each search, something that Syrinx also does.
Now, let’s have a look at how Syrinx and Echofon stack up for me.
The obvious things that I like about Syrinx are that it can hold as many tweets as I want, as well as the bookmark. I’ve also grown accustomed to the way that it displays time in absolute format, something which Tweetie 2 / iPhone also does. One other nicety in Syrinx is that it can display real names in addition to Twitter handles, because sometimes handles and people are hard to match up. When you have tons of tweets lying around in the? client, sometimes you want to go back to one, and Syrinx obliges with the ability to search all the tweets that it currently has in memory.
So what are the problems with Syrinx? It’s been occasionally unstable, but not in a show stopping fashion. It doesn’t have good support for lists, but I still haven’t made much use of lists. Syrinx does great on opening windows for searches, but it doesn’t remember what searches you have open, so you have to keep track of that yourself. Probably the biggest drawback of Syrinx is that its development is going slowly because its author has a day job.
When I compare Echofon and Syrinx, I realize that a lot of the things that I prefer in Echofon are niceties. I like that it can open browser links in the background. I like the way that the drawer is used for dealing with Twitter users and profiles and for displaying conversations. I just wish it could display more than one conversation at once – but that’s hard in the drawer model. The ability to colorize tweets matching keywords makes it easier to pick out tweets on high priority topics. As a photographer, I appreciate the ability to display pictures without going all the way to the browser. I do wish there was a way to get some kind of preview of those pictures right in the tweet stream. Echofon does this clever thing where it combines “rapid-fire” tweets from the same person. This seems to work really well, and the visual cue is definitely helpful.
Looking at the tweet authoring side, I love the “retweet with comment” option. One reason that I stopped commenting on retweets was that it was annoying to do it. No more. Echofon can tab complete Twitter id’s when @replying or direct messaging. I still wish for a direct message “rolodex” – there are some people who have hard to remember Twitter id’s. bit.ly is my preferred URL shortener because of the analytics, but you have to be logged in to bit.ly in order for that to work well. Fortunately Echofon is able to log into bit.ly accounts so that your analytics work.
In theory, I like the idea of an Echofon ecosystem that syncs the desktop and mobile clients. I haven’t tried this yet because I have iPhone Twitter client fatigue, and because as much as I like Echofon, there are some issues that make it hard for me to switch over.
The first of these issues is that Echofon won’t hold all of the tweets that happen overnight. It looks like Echofon will hold about 5 hours of tweets before it starts to drop them on the floor. There go some of those European tweets.
The next big issue is that marking read/unread doesn’t work for me. If I am scrolling up through my home tweets and I hit the top, everything gets marked read. It’s easy to do that by accident. Switching to the @, DM, or search tabs also marks my home tweets as all read, and that doesn’t work for me at all.
Compared to those two issues, everything else is just nits, but here goes, just to be complete. Echofon doesn’t display absolute time or real names. Also, Echofon doesn’t let you search your home tweets.
Wild and crazy wishes
Certain URL shortening services (su.pr and ow.ly come to mind) wrap the page in a header bar, which is annoying. I’d love if my client would route through those services so that the URL that I got in the browser was the actual content.
Sometimes there are links that are retweeted a bunch. I would love it if a client could compress all those retweets into a single entry which showed how many / which people I follow retweeted a link, along with an indication of whether or not I had already “read” an earlier retweeter (which would mean I had already read the link).
I guess I’ll have to do another version of this post when Tweetie 2 for Mac finally ships. Or maybe it’s still early enough for some of these ideas to make the cut.
Here is a jumble of thoughts about the iPad, after finally getting a chance to watch the Stevenote last night. If you haven’t watched it, I think that there are some parts of it that are worth watching, particularly the app developer parts. When I first saw the online coverage of the iPad announcement, I wasn’t that impressed. On the surface, the iPad is pretty unsurprising. It’s a tablet and it’s based on the iPhone OS (or may be we should really be calling it OS X Touch).
One the one hand, the iPad is the same iPhone OS that is familiar to 70 million iPhone users. On the other hand, some of the keynote demos show that the larger form factor is going to have some interesting UI potential.
I usually try to pay careful attention to presentations by game developers. It’s not because I am a big gamer myself, but it’s because the people doing games are usually doing some of the most insane, crazy, and interesting things in the business, and it’s worth paying attention to the things that they say are important. Both of the game demos for the iPad had some pretty interesting UI and commentary on the experience of the machine as a whole.
The other really interesting part of the keynote was the iWork demo. I am very impressed with the way that iWork has been adapted to the touch screen. There are a number of really cool multitouch gestures that were demonstrated. This is going to be the beginning of some very interesting user interface stuff.
I spent most of yesterday watching the Oracle/Sun strategy webcast, and a major theme was the way that Oracle plans to tightly integrate Sun’s hardware, and to optimize the entire hardware and software stack. The Oracle Exadata database machine was repeatedly touted as an example of this kind of integration. If the benchmarks and early customer experiences are indicative, this integration has paid off handsomely, as it has also with the Sun Storage 7000.
The new A4 processor powering the iPad received only brief mention during the keynote, but here too is the same kind of integration. Details on the A4 are very scarce, but speculation is that it was done by the team that Apple acquired from PA semiconductor. It appears to be an ARM compatible (iPhone apps do run) system on a chip design, and I would bet that it is contributing to the (relatively) low price, long battery life, and high performance (according to Gruber) of the device.
I think that it’s worth noting that companies like Google are also doing this kind of vertical integration, building their own custom PC designs, having custom Linux kernels and other software. Many of us in the “open” world decry vertical integration because it is almost inevitably closed, but the kind of engineering virtuosity that is on display does impress.
Apple appears to have gotten iPad users a deal on 3G pricing from AT&T. I am not really sure that this is a step in the right direction. If Apple is to believed, we are entering a world where a person could have no less that 3 devices (phone, pad, laptop) in need of wireless data (and voice) connectivity. A contract/plan for each device might be great for the carriers, but it is horrible for the users. Since even Apple has backed down in the face of the carriers, it doesn’t look like this is going to change much, but it ought to.
Will I buy one? I’ve been toying with the idea of buying Kindle for some time now. I wanted the size of the Kindle DX, since I wanted to read PDFs of books and research papers, but I felt that $499 for the DX was too much to pay for a book reader. The iPad is obviously a much more capable device than a Kindle, and I’d expect Amazon to upgrade their Kindle iPhone app to run on the iPad.
I think that the iPad would be vastly superior to my iPhone as a means of showing my photographic portfolio. I can also imagine using an iPad as a tethered shooting target, which would definitely be interesting. The tablet form factor could lead to some pretty interesting photography applications, and the iPad CPU appears to be reasonably capable.
I’ll say this much – I definitely want to play with one.
For the past three or four years, I’ve been promising myself that I was going to buy myself a Mac Pro. This mostly a result of digital photography, which makes rapacious demands on computer systems. In the last 9 months or so, it’s also been because I am doing more work using virtualized machine images. In any case, every time Apple had an event, I was telling myself that I was going to buy the machine, but there was always some reason why it never happened. The announcement of the Nehalem based Mac Pro earlier this year finally pushed me over the edge. And pushing was required. There’s been a lot of benchmarking which casts the performance of these machines in questionable light when compared with the machines that they replaced. Until a bunch of applications are rewritten to take advantage of the large number of cores in Nehalem based systems, these boxes are only slightly better than the ones they replaced, and a bit more expensive.
I ended up getting an 8 core machine, because these are the machines that can be expanded to an outrageous amount of memory, something which is a necessity for systems doing a lot of Photoshop. Due to the benchmarking controversy, I got the 2.66GHz processors, so that single threaded programs wouldn’t suffer as much. Here’s a quick rundown on my experience after having the machine for a few weeks.
All of my hardware moved over without a hiccup, except for my Logitech Z-5500 speakers. I needed a TOSLINK to TOSLINK cable, which was rectified by a trip to Radio Shack (yes, we have one on Bainbridge Island. It’s not Fry’s but once a year or so they save my bacon.). The machine is much quieter than I expected. The last desktop machine that I owned was a homebuilt Windows box, and that thing was really loud. The Mac Pro is quieter than some of the external FireWire drives that are plugged into it. Heat would be a different story. My office is already several degrees warmer than the rest of the house, and now it’s probably another several degrees warmer. I’m having to be very careful about leaving my office doors open in order for things to cool down. Figuring out how this works in the summer is going to be interesting.
Performance wise I am pretty happy. Things are definitely snappier than my Sun supplied 2.6GHz MacBook Pro. I moved some external disks off of Firewire and into the Mac Pro’s internal SATA drive bays, and I am sure that the change in interface made a big contribution to the improved speed. The machine has 12GB of Other World Computing RAM in it, so it basically doesn’t page unless I am doing something big in Photoshop or have several VirtualBox VMs open at the same time.
There are some things that I miss:
We don’t have TV, so we do a lot of NetFlix and other DVD’s. This happened mostly on the MacBook Pro via Front Row and the Apple Remote. The Mac Pro doesn’t talk to the Apple remote, and I miss that. If people have suggestions for controlling Front Row on a Mac Pro, please leave them in the comments.
I got used to having the laptop hooked up to the LCD display, and using the laptop LCD as my “communications display” for IM, IRC, Twitter and so forth. Now I’m back down to a single display and missing it. I’m also missing it in Lightroom.
The Mac Pro came with an Apple keyboard, and the keyboard I was using was a Microsoft Natural Keyboard from 2000, and some of the keys were starting to get hard to push. So I figured that I would try the Apple keyboard. So far I don’t mind it, but keys are in different places, and the new keyboard has 9 years of muscle memory working against it. But that would be true of just about any keyboard.
Any time I get a new machine I update my Macintosh Tips and Tricks page. I definitely have some updates that I could make, and I might make some of them after JavaOne. The rumor mill is suggesting that MacOS 10.6 Snow Leopard is going to ship this summer, so I might just wait until that happens, since I expect a lot of things to need updating, rearranging, etc.
I did have a problem when I tried to update the machine to 10.5.7. Things were behaving very oddly, so I restored the machine back to 10.5.6 with Time Machine. Time Machine backups on an internal SATA drive take less time (and make less noise) than on an external FireWire drive. I’m going to give this another try after JavaOne. And for prospective commenters, yes, I repaired permissions and used the Combo Updater.
Photoshop occasionally makes use of the additional cores, but it’s the large amount of RAM that is really making the difference at the moment. The same is true for Lightroom. Perhaps the next editions of these programs, coupled with 10.6, will do a better job of keeping multiple cores busy. In the meantime, my Lightroom to Photoshop batch jobs are definitely running quite a bit faster than before.
On the whole
On the whole, I am happy with the machine, and I expect to be a lot happier when 10.6 ships this summer.
MRR Software has released a beta of Syrinx 2.0 just in time for PyCon this week (or ApacheCon EU or EclipseCon, if you are at one of those events). My biggest complaint with Syrinx 1.0 was that it was using up a lot of memory and CPU. That’s totally fixed in Syrinx 2.0. I’ve left Syrinx running for over a day with very little discernable growth in memory. I used to have to restart it several times a day. Scrolling and searching are both much faster as well. Retweet and URL shortening have been added, which pretty much takes care of me featurewise, although I’d like a retweet button in the button bar of a tweet, and I’d prefer bit.ly as the URL shortening service. Minor complaints to be sure. The last UI issue for me is that Syrinx 2.0 now expands the current tweet from it’s slightly compressed list element version. This is a problem for tweets that contain links (the best kind), because you have to click once to zoom the tweet, and then click again to open the link. I know that MRR is working on this one.
Several week ago I also switch my iPhone client from Twitterific to Tweetie. I love everything about Tweetie except for 2 things:
1. Tweetie goes to the network all the time. This wouldn’t be a problem if iPhone latency was just a bit better.
2. I don’t like the way the Tweetie segments replies and direct messages. I like having tabs to see just those things, but I don’t like it that they no longer appear in the main view. Syrinx is doing it the way that I prefer.
My favorite features about Tweetie are:
1. Network lag aside, Tweetie is speedy.
2. The swipe actions, particularly favorites – I now favorite a lot more. This saves me from losing tweets with interesting links when I am in a hurry. I fave them on the phone and then read the faves from the desktop.
3. Instapaper support. I’m glad this is here, but I use it less than I thought I would, because of favorites
4. The landscape mode keyboard – This is taking some getting used to, but it’s good practice for iPhone 3.0
5. Ability to say how many tweets to load – good for making sure you don’t miss anything
6. Retweeting – too bad it doesn’t fit in the swipe bars.
There’s still no direct message rolodex, something that I am sure I will be wishing for this week at PyCon.
At least I’ll be well armed for the next few months, where I’ll be at a number of conferences.
Let’s suppose that you were trying to port dtrace probes from (Open)Solaris to Mac OS X, and the makefile for the probes on (Open)Solaris calls for the -G option, which isn’t recognized by dtrace in 10.5. You might want to check out this mail thread to find out what to do.
The driver for this is an effort to port OpenSolaris’ dtrace probes for Python to run on OS X. One benefit of this will be that we’ll have access to John Levon’s ustack provider for Python on the Mac. If someone wants to tackle a port for FreeBSD 7.1, it would be great to get this support into all dtrace enabled platforms.
Much is being made of Apple’s decision to leave the Macworld show. You can look at this from several angles:
New Product Announcements
From Apple’s point of view, leaving Macworld is a major win. This unbinds them from the need to pull out all the stops in order to have new products ready for an arbitrary deadline. It also will improve Apple’s holiday sales. No person knowledgeable about Apple would buy anything (unless it was freshly announced) in the 2-3 months before Macworld. You’d be nuts to. Now consumers won’t be able to count on an event to in order to help guide their buying decisions.
My guess is that it has become harder and harder to for Apple to time their announcements for the show. On the computer side, the Macintosh hardware cycle is now irrevocably linked to Intel’s hardware roadmap. Intel has their own schedule about when they ship products, and it overlaps badly with Macworld. Take the Nehalem release as an example. If Apple stays true to form and uses server Nehalem’s in the Mac Pro and laptop Nehalems in the iMac, then there is no reason to believe that there will be significant (non clock speed bump) release of either the Mac Pro or the iMac this January. As far as Intel has said, the Nehalem launch dates simply won’t allow it. On the other hand, Intel is reasonably good about telegraphing the direction of their hardware, so you might be able use these dates as a guide for new computer product launches.
As an individual purchaser of Apple products, I’m not excited about this, because it increases the risk that I’m going to buy something and then be unhappily surprised. But as an Apple stockholder, I think that this will actually be a better move for Apple’s business in the long run.
The Macintosh community
Some people are lamenting the end of the Macworld show (not a forgone conclusion) as a blow to the Macintosh community. I’m not sure that I agree with this. Macworld doesn’t have to die just because Apple is pulling out, and even if Macworld did die, then maybe there would be another event to spring up in it’s place. For me personally, I’m getting more than my fill of Macintosh news, commentary, and other interaction via the Internet. Back when I lived in Boston, I used to attend Macworld, but my attendance was mostly walking the exhibit floor, occasionally talking to a vendor, and then taking off. I actually have much better relationships with Mac developers now. All I have to do is drop them e-mail. Personally, I think it’s pretty clear that there’s something wrong with the traditional trade show / conference model — and I don’t just mean Macworld, here. I’d like to see something different emerge, and I hope that the problems with the economy will force that different thing into existence.
Apple’s succession plan / Steve Jobs is sick
This is perhaps the most troubling angle. People (rightly or wrongly) attribute a large amount of Apple’s success to Steve Jobs. I’ve personally experienced the Steve Jobs effect – he returned to Apple when I was working there. Many of us also remember the train of ineffective CEO’s that preceded Steve’s return. Could Apple continue on its path of success if Jobs were to leave the company? With the right leadership, it could, but it is hard to know if the rest of the team is up to the job. I hope they are.
I have usernames on most of the major lifestreaming services (Twitter, FriendFeed, identi.ca, and so on). For a variety of reasons, I really only use Twitter, and the only way that Twitter is useful / manageable for me is the existence of rich client side applications.
Mac OS X
For some time, I’ve been using Craig Hockenberry’s excellent Twitterific. I liked the UI, and the feature set was good. From time to time, I would try the Adobe AIR based twhirl, which had the virtue of also being a FriendFeed and identi.ca client. Unfortunately, I could never keep twhirl because of a bug in AIR 1.1 that caused clicked URLs to open in a new Firefox window instead of a new tab. That bug was fixed in this weeks AIR 1.5 release, so I gave twhirl another try earlier this week. I liked having FriendFeed and identi.ca up (having identi.ca up meant that I saw Allison Randall’s messages about the Parrot Developer summit and their new release schedule). I didn’t like having a window for each service — I don’t care about keeping it separate, and I’m still having some trouble finding a theme that works for my aging eyes. Twhirl also doesn’t seem to remember window positions between runs, which makes the multiple windows even more of a pain. I also miss seeing people’s “real names” and the Growl notifications that I was getting from Twitterific. I put twhirl back on the shelf, but will probably come back to it again.
A week or two ago, I discovered Syrinx, which is a Twitter only client. There were a few things that persuaded me to try it out. The ability to set a bookmark at some point in the message stream and then go back to it. This seems to work better for my style of reading than individual read/unread markers on each Tweet. The keyboard shortcut means that I can jump right to where I left off, which is nice. Syrinx also lets you search the stream, which is useful. I follow enough people that searching is useful. I was also (incorrectly) under the impression that Syrinx would save a slice of the message stream locally, which would be a nicety. I can page backwards on the Twitter site, but that way lies pain. Syrinx has a way of tracking twitter “conversations” and finding the supposedly relevant tweets and presenting them. I like this idea, I just wish it wouldn’t take over the main message stream window in order to show it. The biggest problem with Syrinx is that there something awfully bloated in there, which means that after some time, the app is eating memory and slowing down. Which means you have to restart it, which means you have to catch up first. MRR, the author of Syrinx, knows that this is a problem and is working on a solution. I hope that won’t take a long time.
Because of the AIR 1.5 release I also tried TweetDeck this week. I tried it, and there were some interesting features. I liked the ability to make my own groups of people – but Twitter should be supporting that. I also liked the way that replies and direct messages could be in their own column – I really liked that, actually. I liked the idea of TwitScoop, but what I’d really like would be a TwitScoop of my Twitter network – that would be cool. TweetDeck was great when I put it on my 30″ main display. You can see lots of stuff and quickly see if there is anything useful. Unfortunately, I’m not willing to dedicate that much screen real estate — whatever client I use has to live (and share) on the “outboard” main LCD of the MacBook Pro.
When I got my iPhone, I started using Twinkle. There pretty much wasn’t anything else, and I sort of liked the idea of having some kind of location awareness of people using the service. Turns out that very few people that I know use the Twinkle location stuff, and I’ve pretty much switched to using Brightkite for that kind of thing, and even there, the jury is out. User interface wise, I like the fact that it colors replies and direct messages differently — it makes them much easier to pick out. I don’t like that I have to tap on a tweet containing a link in order to open the link.
I’ve since switched to using the iPhone version of Twitterific. I don’t have to tap on tweets to follow links, and Twitterific is pretty good about storing a decent number of tweets on the phone. I can usually take a 2 hour plane flight and not have missed much when I land on the other side. I’d love to not miss anything at all. One annoyance is that Twitterific for iPhone doesn’t remember the last tweet that I was looking at very well, so I end up doing a lot more scrolling than I should have to.
Here’s a consolidation of the some of the things that I think are important in rich clients for Twitter and services like it.
- Good management of windows – I don’t want a window for each service – I want one big stream.
- Good visual design that easily lets you differentiate between different kinds of messages (tweets/replies/direct messages). Make links easy to see and follow.
- Keep a local, searchable, history of messages.
- Provide a good, low maintenance way for me to keep my place in a busy stream.
- Give me a way to follow conversations (chains of replies). I would be happy to have a menu for this.
- Integrate some of the third party services that are springing up, like TwitScoop.
On the mobile side, there is one feature that I would consider killer.
I want a “direct message” rolodex. There are people who I want to direct message on a frequent basis. I don’t remember everybody’s twitter user name – that’s what computers are for. I want a “picker” that contains a “speed direct message” list. That would be awesome.
This is one space where rich/desktop applications are by no means dead.
It’s been a while since I reported on the state of my Macintosh. Here are a few apps that I’ve been using a lot recently.
I’ve had Evernote installed for quite some time, but I didn’t really start using it until after I got my iPhone. So I was interested to read Ars Technica’s report that 57% of Evernote’s users are using the iPhone client. Evernote is a great example of the “rich application architecture of the future”. Evernote’s family of applications include desktop clients for Mac OS X and Windows, a web applications, and mobile clients, most notably the iPhone. All of these pieces work together to make a great integrated solution. This is the kind of ecosystem that we were building around Chandler, although we never got to the mobile part, and as the Evernote data suggests, we would have been fine just creating an iPhone client. Of course, hindsight is 20/20.
Apple helped Evernote tremendously by providing a barely functional notes application on the iPhone, and then providing no way to sync notes back to a Mac. So the iPhone Evernote client fills a great hole in the iPhone application suite. That got me started using Evernote for information that might need to move back and forth between desktop and device. The next step up for me was that I started using Evernote to take notes for conferences. I used to use Ecto for that, and I would then rewrite my notes into a blog post. But I missed having the raw notes, so I decided that instead of creating a billion drafts in Ecto to hold the raw notes, I would just take all the notes in Evernote, and then write the posts in Ecto. This of course had the added benefit of me being able to use other features of Evernote. I definitely think that the Evernote team is doing something that desktop and mobile software developers ought to be paying attention to.
Another good example of this desktop/web/mobile trend is the fantastic 1Passwd password manager for Mac OS X and iPhone. I got 1Passwd as part of a MacUpdate software bundle some time back. It took me quite some time to start using it, because I was happily using Firefox’s built in password manager. 1Passwd has the advantage of working with Firefox, Safari, and NetNewsWire on my desktop. It does a much better job of dealing with odd web site logins. It does a great job of managing my ridiculous number of passwords. Actually it has a great password generator built in, which makes it easy to stop the common practice of having a few relatively easy to remember passwords that you use everywhere. Which is just plain bad security. 1Passwd also has an iPhone version, which means that accessing sites from my iPhone is no problem at all either. Great piece of software.
The last piece of software is PathFinder, which is PODS (plain old desktop software). PathFinder is a great replacement for the Finder, and the latest version, 5.0, adds a dual plan feature that makes file management tasks much easier. You can also manage sets of tabs. I use this feature to manage projects, by creating a set of tabs for each project. I can then flip a PathFinder pane into exactly the configuration that I want for working on that project. It’s a shame that Apple has been so lackadasical about improving the Finder. Maybe this will improve with the rewrite of the Finder for Snow Leopard. In the meantime, PathFinder is a good solution for those of us that need a little more than what the Finder provides.
1. 3G iPhone with hardware GPS – I am dying to put my Nokia 6600 to rest
2. An emphasis on stability and performance in 10.6. – 10.5 just seems less reliable than it should. I am having problems with Firewire disks and with the WindowServer freaking out and consuming all available cores.
3. ZFS – my photo hard disk situation is a mess.
And that’s it. If there are other goodies, and I am sure there will be, that’s fine, but I’d be happy to check off those three items and call it a day.