27 December 2007

Benvenuto La Macchina

There is a logical explanation (or if you prefer, a lame excuse) for the subdued level of activity at Nomadicity over the past few weeks. Since mid-October most of my free time has been occupied with the complicated task of migrating from the Windows world over to the Mac platform. Yes, I know that Apple has an optimisticly worded web page that explains how simple it all is. In technical terms, they are big fat liars. The complexity was not entirely unexpected – I originally moved from the PC to the Mac environment shortly after Macs were first introduced in 1984. From that time, I was a big advocate of the platform, but when I moved to Poland in 1997, Mac support in the country was limited and my company gave me a Windows™ laptop for free (Resistence is futile! Lower your shields and prepare to be assimilated!). In those pre-WiFi, pre-magsafe days I was living in a flat with a phone jack on one side of the room and a power point on the other. So I had a choice – have a phone line snaking across the floor towards the power point, or have a power cord snaking across the floor towards the phone jack. One day the inevitable happened – I tripped over the cord and my mac laptop came crashing to the tile floor, breaking the LCD panel. So from that point on, I've been resigned to being a part of the global Windows®™© empire, patiently enduring an endless series of hangs, crashes, freezes, blue screens of death, viruses, trojans, spam, malware, adware, spyware, obtuse error messages, the cheerfully obnoxious Office®™ "assistant", and "wizards" more evil than anything JK Rowling ever dreamed up. After losing my job in 2002 and going freelance, I no longer had a company IT manager standing between me and a Mac, so when it came time to buy a new laptop in 2004 I came within a panther's whisker of doing so. But my business partner, who was hoping to maximise the discount we could get by buying several Dell machines together, planted doubts about system and platform incompatibilities in my mind, and in the end I chickened out. I almost did so again this time to – I actually prepared an order for a high-spec Fujitsu-Siemens machine with built-in HSDPSA from a local supplier in Stockholm earlier this year, but this time I had the good fortune to be working with several consultants who were Mac users and found that most of my compatibility concerns were unfounded. Printing on an office LAN, file and folder sharing, and even connecting to an Exchange®℠™®© server all apparently work reasonably well. This was also about the time all the Windows©®™®℠ Vista℠®©™® horror stories began to appear in the media. So, this past October I took the plunge.

It was a pretty deep plunge at that, at just over 40 thousand Swedish crowns for a MacBook Pro, software, extended warranty, etc. I must say that the initial impression did not disappoint in the least – judging from the packaging alone, Apple clearly deserves much of the hype it generates. The attention to detail and concern for æsthetics were obvious the instant I had the elegant black box in my hands. Inside, under a thoughtfully designed and implausibly attractive protective foam panel that precisely balanced the competing needs for protection, bulk, and weight, sat the laptop itself, and underneath, nestling in a sort of little niche that presented and protected it in the way that some holy object might be housed in the temple built to display it, was a elegant little box holding the OS DVD and the instruction manual, with the words "Tutto Mac" emblazoned in a confident, yet unassertive, 24 point dark gray sans-serif font. I thought the Italian was an attempt by some left-coast designer to try to nudge up Apple's cool factor another notch or two, no doubt after being inspired by Starbuck's belief that using the Italian words for coffee with milk somehow makes their drinks cooler. A glance inside the manual, however, revealed that, in fact, the entire manual was in Italian, and I soon learned that it had been delivered with an Italian keyboard as well. Hence, I decided to christen my new machine "La MACchina".

The patient, delicate and time-consuming effort I've gone through over the past few weeks to move everything over to the new environment and get it all working properly has reminded me why "macchina" is a feminine noun in Italian. I'm still fussing with getting the synching with my Palm device and telephones working properly. At various points, I had addresses but not calendars synching, then one phone but not the other, then both phones but not the Palm, then massive duplication of entries, then losing all the entries, then restoring the entries, and finally, as of yesterday, getting the calendars but not the addresses synching. Still some more fussing around to do, I am sure, but am getting close, and now I've finally managed to get Apple to replace the Italian keyboard with a Swedish one, as I originally ordered. I also ordered an English OS, but it arrived in Swedish, and that apparently I am stuck with.

Despite the pain, it's good to be back. Apple has come a long ways since I last used their OS under System 7, at a time when computers were simple enough that I knew what every last file in the System Folder was there for. Systems 8 and 9 have come and gone, and now System X has gone through several feline permutations – Jaguar, Panther, Tiger and now Leopard. Hopefully, they'll name the next one "Tabby".

Speaking of cats, the big news from the USA this week was the escape of a 4-year old, 150 kilo Siberian tiger named "Tatiana" who killed one and injured two at the San Francisco zoo. The police shot her to death, despite the fact that her species has been driven to the brink of extinction by humans, so she wasn't exactly unjustified in scoring a point or two for her own team. But I suppose if I were facing a member of the most powerful feline species in the world, moving towards me with fresh blood dripping from its claws and fangs, I would probably also reach for my police revolver if I had one handy. But I would probably do something else first, without taking the time to locate the nearest litter box to do it in. So if you have cats, it may not be a good idea to be watching the evening news with them in the room if the tiger attack story comes up – they might get ideas. Odds are you are a bit tastier than that dried, re-processed meat flavoured cereal you've been feeding them all these years anyway.

28 December 2007