myMac 01

I am a Mac.

Oh, wait, no, different commercial. Let me start again.

I have a Mac. I call it myMac and I’ve only had it for a few hours. Those of you who know me know I could not possibly own a Mac, so you may assume I stole it or something. Fine, think that. The truth is more interesting but I’ll save that for another time.

All you need to know now is that I needed a solution to certain problems and this iMac … which I call myMac … is the solution. I had two separate classes of problem, one of which could have been solved in a number of different ways, the other only with this particular machine. And you’ll hear about it all in good time.

For now, I just wanted to relate the story of my first foray into AppleCulture.

I’ve used Macs before, lots of times. I produced a monthly 64 page newspaper on a Mac II. I (with colleagues) set up a 3D fossil imaging lab which was based partly on a big-ass G4 server. I had an iBook as a field computer one year. I did most of my thesis graphics on some sort of Mac server thingies.

But all those computers were either there for me to use already, or purchased as part of a team effort where someone else did the paperwork and the machines came by FedEx. I’ve never gone into the Apple Store as a private citizen to pick up an individual computer. And it is different. Very different.

First, the store was full of about 15 people who worked there and 15 customers. Two young men were at the door waiting for me as though they’d been expecting me their whole lives. They asked me what I needed, I told them I was picking up a computer, and they made the computer appear within a few seconds. It was almost too easy.

I had assumed that if I was getting a new computer, there would be certain things I’d need to purchase to make it work. For instance, Macs come with this dumb one button mouse, I’d have to replace that. There would probably be other needs. I had a list in my head, so after they handed me the computer and resumed smiling at me, I asked a question.

“Can I ask you a question or two?”

“Why certainly!” … smiling.

“OK. I’ve heard about this .mac thing. Do I need that?”

“No. That’s been replaced by [something or another] which was replaced by [something or another] which was replaced by The Cloud.”

“So, I need to buy The Cloud? Where do I buy that?”

“It’s free.”


“Yeah, it’s already in there,” pointing to the box with the computer in it. I imagined some fog coming out of the box when I opened it later.

“Ok. OK.”

They started to say good bye again but I was not having it. I knew for certain that I was going to have to buy some stupid extra thing to make this computer work. I persisted.

“What about iLife, that thing. I need that. Get me one of those.”

“You don’t need that. All that stuff is free. In the box,” pointing again, “It’s in there.”

“Oh, OK,” I was going to have to think fast. “What about the mouse! That’s it, the mouse! I knew there was something I was going to need. This comes with a one button mouse. As a long time Linux user I’ve become accustom to a mouse with more than one button Far more than one button, in fact…”

“Nope,” they interrupted. They brought me over to a shelf and showed me the mouse. “The new mouse has NO buttons, which actually means it has INFINITE buttons, and it understand genstures!”

“Does it,” I inturrupted, “allow me to right click?”

“Yes, it does,” they smiled.

“Very well then…”

Thinking thinking thinking.. oh, right!

“I know … there is this other thing I wanted. A keyboard for my iPad. I need that. Do you have them? Get me one of those!”

“You don’t need one,” they smiled, picking another item off the shelf. “This is the keyboard that comes with your computer. It’s as small as any portable and works on Bluetooth. Most people just take this with them when they travel with the iPad.”

“Ugh,” I said. “Let me see that.”

And indeed the keyboard was tiny, only a little bigger than the iPad itself. They were probably right.

And so I left, with no accessories, the two of them kindly smiling after me.


  1. #1 Mary Canady
    February 6, 2012

    Great post! I think like you, I started with Macs but migrated to PCs for various reasons, now I’m heading back. You answered many of my questions, thanks!

  2. #2 HP
    February 7, 2012

    I have absolutely no operating system loyalties, but I tend to use my main computer pretty much all of the time. So, here’s what you need to know about your iMac: They run hot. Really, really, hot. Hot enough to damage the electronics. And it’s very hard to keep the CPU cool, because they cram everything into this tiny box with no air circulation. Think of it as a large-screen laptop, and use it accordingly.

    Since it’s not unusual for me to be running 8 – 16 hours a day, my iMac wound up with a very short lifespan, because it got really, really hot and stuff burned up and it failed. I could’ve had it repaired, but I have no loyalty to Apple products and I was able to replace it with a cheaper, more powerful computer in a big, airy case with a working fan.

    Apparently, the iMac has a fan which is permanently turned off by default. (I found this out when a forum search showed all the other people whose computers had burned up from running way too hot.) I suggest you go search the support forums for the instructions to turn the disabled fan on (Hint: It’s not obvious), and then not run your iMac more than 6 hours a day, and keep everything backed up, all the time.

    Or just use it for checking email and updating your Facebook status and designing multi-font three-fold circulars for your balloon business or whatever lowest common denominator they design home computers for these days.

  3. #3 Airtime
    February 7, 2012

    He’s drunk the Kool-Aid!
    All is lost!

  4. #4 Barry
    February 7, 2012

    He’s trapped in the walled garden! He may never escape!

  5. #5 travc
    February 7, 2012

    Apple makes great devices for doing what those devices are designed to do. Doing anything beyond what it already does can very quickly become a severe pain (or impossible).

    Anyway, I think of Apple products as complete widgets (like a pencil for example). That is their primary business model, which oddly makes me more-or-less OK with much of their proprietary crap. My MacBook does what it does (web browsing, reading, some writing, and a tiny bit of simple coding), with very minimal enhancement or fiddling. In contrast, my desktop (Linux and Windoze) is just a part… a platform for running arbitrary code and interfacing with all sorts of nifty devices.

    BTW: If you haven’t read Neil Stephenson’s “In the Beginning there was the Command Line”, do so…

  6. #6 MikeMa
    February 7, 2012

    Yup Greg. I have had a similar experience in the Apple Store. Very attentive staff, very complete systems no matter how crowded. The genius bar is well staffed if distracted.

    I used Apple IIe, SE II, IIx, etc up through G4 then skipped to a MacBook Pro I got as a hand me down. The system is great – easy to upgrade memory and OS but some of the apps suck. iPhoto, for instance, stores images and video is such an un-intuitive fashion, I feel I must be doing it wrong. There are a few things like that where if you don’t use the default process, it will bug you or the system or both.

    Enjoy the dark side.

  7. #7 MJ
    February 7, 2012

    Liked the “thinking thinking thinking” – reminded me of the “printing” graphic that used to come up on the Apple IIc (IIe?) my mom, a teacher, used many years ago. It’s in my plan to go Mac, hopefully this year or next. (still on the Win…)

  8. #8 Eric Lund
    February 7, 2012

    Now that you have a Mac of your very own, I will remind you of a very useful application called Terminal. When you want or need to do Unix command line stuff (given your background I know that “if” is the wrong word), this is where you will do it.

    Example: For some obscure reason Apple decided with MacOS 10.7 to hide the $HOME/Library folder from the Finder. However, if you use LaTeX on your Mac (as I do), the style and macro files you want all of your documents to access probably live somewhere in there (on my system they are under $HOME/Library/texmf). Which means that if I’ve just added some more papers to my BibTeX database on my office computer (which still runs MacOS 10.6) to my laptop (which runs 10.7), I have to use the Terminal to copy the file to the appropriate location.

  9. #9 Rev Matt
    February 7, 2012

    I’m always amused at the comments about how limited Macs are and how you can only use them for very specific things, etc etc etc. Generally posted by people who’ve never used one. I’ve done python, java, and web development, music and video production, run servers, and etc for nearly a decade on my macs. The only thing I’ve ever encountered that I couldn’t do on my Mac was play games that don’t have a Mac version.

    I’ll also note I’m in favor of what works. I like linux on internal servers, OpenBSD on public facing servers, and Mac (particularly because of the UNIX under the covers, Terminal is the only app that I auto launch on boot and it never gets shut down) on the desktop.

  10. #10 Marion Delgado
    February 7, 2012

    Neil Stephenson’s essay, and this is not hyperbole, made me like Macs decisively. It was so stupid, so brain-dead, so clueless and whiny and just *wrong* about absolutely everything that it focused me on everything I’d hated about the various DOSes (NEC DOS, MSDOS) and the various windows (3.1 through whatever was extent then – maybe 95?).

    I had definitely used the MPW quite a bit. Stephenson is a writer, but outside of that, he’s kind of an idiot, frankly. He didn’t understand the hardware limitation reasons for the dedicated GUI (anyone with any connection to XEROC PARC could have enlightened him) at the time the Macintosh incorporated it. He didn’t understand (apparently) even how the MPW worked. He missed probably Apple’s biggest disservice – not acquiring Frontier with its Python-like syntax and excellent breadth and sticking with AppleScript.

    That’s what’s missing from that dumbs__t essay: it’s retro to state of the art. As someone who used early Macs AND PCs all the time around that time and before and after I was, as I say, kind of galvanized. “Whatever this idiot is selling, I want to do / buy the opposite.” He also in no way grasped either the RISC / CISC architecture differences or the trend to convergence. He disregarded what was probably the key feature for Mac fans – the Human Interface Guidelines Apple insisted on. Ugh.

  11. #11
    February 7, 2012

    Wait… wait… You’re going from Linux to Mac?

    I’ve been a Mac user for fifteen years and I’m trying to switch to Linux! Some of the things they’ve done to Lion are quite annoying, especially for those of us who know our way around the system. For example, they turned a large number of system-related folders, which I access all the time, invisible. Also, they removed Rosetta, which is required to run PPC software. Granted, there hasn’t been a PPC mac for almost six years now, but I still run a lot of PPC software on my Intel machine, so I can’t update unless I update a bunch of other software which I have come to rely on.

    And Rev Matt is right, OSX is a UNIX 3.0 Certified operating system, so the terminal will be very familiar to those who are used to the Linux kernel. I don’t launch mine at startup but it does see a lot of use. I am primarily a biochem student, but I’m also a 3d graphic artist, budding programmer, and open-source addict. The only issue I typically have on the Mac is with building open source software from code, there are frequently problems with dependancies being unbuildable for a given OS on a given architecture.

    You can play Windows games and run other programs on the Mac, just like under Linux, using WINE. The best wine option available for Mac is “Wineskin Winery,” because it has a great interface, better handling and decorating of windows, its own internal X11 (which helps with app management), and it enables you to make windows programs into individual .app Applications. Just like Crossover, but free. I also have WineBottler and just a macports terminal version, they are not as well-designed but occasionally have advantages over Wineskin.

  12. #12 Marion Delgado
    February 7, 2012

    By the way, I am a True Believer™ I guess: I believe in my lifetime that free OS and apps and cheap laptops/some cheap desktops will mostly replace both Apple and Microsoft and their competitors. I’ve gotten even entirely non-tech-y people to use Linux quite often, and I think the handwriting’s on the wall.

  13. #13 David
    February 7, 2012

    Oh,yes! The year of the Linux desktop will surely begin in just a few months. As for Stephenson, a disingenuous whiner. An Apple machine ate my homework once upon a time. Boo hoo. I’ll never use one again.

    As for “limitations,” ditto the observation about ignorance above. At the University of Washington, the main bastion of Macs for years was the south campus — all the sciences.

  14. #14 kraut
    February 7, 2012

    I find Mac simply overpriced.

    I assemble what I need myself, select the motherboard, the various cards (video and audio), the power supply, the case etc. I need and the wireless stuff. Can you do this with a mac?

  15. #15 kraut
    February 7, 2012

    And BTW – I use W7, and have no desire to dabble in Linux, and also use windows security essentials without any other virus software.
    No problems for the last three years.

  16. #16 fardels bear
    February 7, 2012

    By “free” of course the genius (ha!) meant that you’d already paid for it.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    February 7, 2012

    Is there a way to make finder see the file system?

    It is ironic that I’ve been using all the Unix commands that I often don’t bother with on my Linux computers to move files and such becuase there isn’t a way to use a GUI in those places where stuff happens. I suppose I could use Midnight Commander if I want a GUI feel on my iMac!

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    February 7, 2012

    http guy [11]: No, I’m not switching. I’m engaged in a couple of projects that require development on a Mac. Here’s the venn diagram in text form:

    Stuff I always did is a big circle
    Stuff I could do better on a mac but do on a Linux is a smallish but important circle and overlaps the big circle
    Stuff I need the mac for no matter what is a circle by itself
    Stuff I will use the mac for includes Stuff I need the mac for and a subset of Stuff I could do better on a mac

    So, no more video editing on the Linux, becuase I think its easier on the mac, not to say that there won’t be some processing on the linux

    Not sure about photos. Imma try the mac out and see.

    OSX and iOS development on the mac but, actually, with some support from the Linux.

    I write this comment from my Linux machine, and I’m blogging from the Linux machine, etc.

    iTunes will be on the Mac as well because I lost my Windows machine. And someday I will make that film I wanted to make of the last moments of the Windows machine, and I’ll edit that on the Mac and then blog it from the Linux. Computers will be harmed during the production of that movie.

    I need a bigger desk.

  19. #19 Michael Fox
    February 7, 2012

    Welcome to the vast world of Apple. You will never be allowed to leave. Nor will you want to!

  20. #20 Dick Beery
    February 7, 2012

    You have seen the light!!! May the Force be with you!

  21. #21 Joe Z
    February 7, 2012

    @ Dr. Laden (#17)

    Hi, it’s #11 again. Are you looking for things like “var, usr, and bin?” Run the terminal command;

    defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE

    Then relaunch Finder, by logging out, killing it, or using the Force Quit dialogue. You’ll see some book-keeping files like .DS_STORE in every folder. That command should also reveal your /Library and ~/Library folders, which store a lot of important preferences. By default, you don’t have permissions to edit the folders, but if you don’t mind typing your password every time you do something, there’s an authentication dialogue. If that gets annoying, you can change the permissions, or log in as root as described here:

  22. #22 Roland
    February 7, 2012

    You only need one keyboard and one mouse for all your systems. See