The Blog Posts I Wanted to Write this Week…

…but couldn’t because I’m writing something I’m getting paid to write.

If I had to choose between writing blog posts and writing 400+ page books about using computers, I’d take the blog posts any day. They’re shorter — I can knock one off in an hour or less — so I get immediate gratification. They’re also about a wide range of topics I choose to write about, so they can be a lot of fun to write. I can include color photos and other illustrations that don’t require me to set up a computer screen just so and snap a picture. Best of all, I can archive them here in my blog with almost 2,000 others, building a living journal of what’s going on on my life. You don’t know how much I love reading blog posts from the past five years of blogging just to remember what was on my mind back then.

200907212014.jpgBut I’m not blogging much this week. I’m writing something else: a 648-page revision to my Mac OS X Visual QuickStart Guide to cover the features of Snow Leopard.

I’m working my proverbial butt off on this book. 648 pages is a lot of pages. And, as usual, I’m not just writing it but also laying it out, page by page, using InDesign CS4. So I’m sitting in front of my 24″ iMac and my new 13″ MacBook Pro, both of which are set up on the dining table in my camper, typing, mousing, screen-snapping, and Photoshopping my way through the project. I have 4 of the book’s 25 chapters left to churn out — roughly 120 pages. My editors (production and copy) are keeping up with me nicely, so we’re turning around finished chapters at an amazing rate. Even my indexer is hard at work with the first 18 chapters properly numbered and ready to index.

A lot of people think I fly for a living. I don’t. This is what I do for a living. I write books about how to use computers.

Of course, when you do something for a living, that means you get paid to do it. I get advances on the books I write and when they sell a bunch of copies, I get quarterly royalty checks. That’s how I pay my bills and, when my helicopter business isn’t busy enough to pay its bills, my writing work pays its bills, too.

I don’t get paid to blog. And I don’t have blogging deadlines. And my blog will never become a bestseller, featured in the Apple store and on Amazon.com. (Yes, it’s true that the first edition of my Mac OS Visual QuickStart Guide, which covered Mac OS 8, got all the way up to #41 in rank on Amazon.com.) So I set my priorities accordingly and my priorities tell me to get this book off my plate so they’ll send me more money and I can get to work on the two books lined up right behind it.

Yes, you read that right: this is the first of three books I have to revise this summer. The other two, which I’m not at liberty to discuss right now, are also more than 400 pages. Each.

But I thought I’d take a moment to list the blog posts I didn’t write this week:

  • Where I was when Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon. I was almost eight years old and my mother kept me and my six-year-old sister up to watch the activities on television. It was late and I was tired. It was boring. But my mother said that we were watching history. All I can remember is wondering what was taking so long for them to come out and why there was so much beeping in the sound.
  • Miscellaneous Political Things. I’m thinking about Sarah Palin, who isn’t a quitter or a dead fish, but gave up mid-term, likely to pursue book and television deals while she’s still hot. I pray she doesn’t try running for president. I’d hate to get a real count of the number of Americans stupid enough to vote for someone who doesn’t know Africa is a continent and thinks living in a state between Canada and Russia gives her foreign policy experience. I’m thinking of Mark Sanford, the South Carolina governor who disappeared off the face of the earth for 5 days without telling anyone where he was going, leaving his state unmanaged so he could pursue an extra-marital affair. I’m thinking of that same guy giving Clinton grief for being serviced by an intern in his office, insisting Clinton resign and now not resigning himself. I’m wondering whether his name will appear beside the word hypocrite in dictionaries or Wikipedia. I’m thinking of the guy who owes him a good dinner (or maybe an all-expense paid trip to Argentina), John Ensign, the Nevada senator who, under threat of blackmail, revealed that he’d had an affair with a member of his staff (no pun intended). A member of a Christian Ministry that calls itself the Promise Keepers, he evidently didn’t think his marriage vows were a promise worth keeping. And I’m thinking of a wise Latina, Sonia Sottomayor, allowing herself to be submitted to the indignity of cross-examination by members of the Republican party trying to make her look hot-headed and unprofessional. They failed because, after all, she is a wise Latina indeed.
  • Blessed by Arizona Highways (Again). My phone started ringing this week with more calls for Flying M Air’s Southwest Circle Helicopter Adventure. Someone had written in a blog comment that I was listed on page 29 of “AZ Magazine.” Turns out, the listing is in Arizona HIghways magazine, the same publication that did a 10-page story on my company’s excursions in the May 2009 issue. This time, I’m listed as the “Best Way to See Arizona in a Week” in the August 2009 issue. While I’m thrilled to be getting the additional press, I’m also a bit worried — I didn’t bring enough marketing material with me to send out the info packets that are being requested daily.
  • My New Old Mechanic. That would be a brief post about how glad I am that my original R44 helicopter mechanic has left the company he worked for to go solo. His boss wouldn’t let him fix my helicopter because of insurance issues and I wound up with a long line of inferior mechanics. Until recently, of course, when I started getting my annual done up here in Washington state. But now I can use my old mechanic for my 100-hour inspections each winter and feel good about the quality of maintenance.
  • Helicopter ArtworkAn Orchard Party with Three Helicopters. That would be an account of the party my friend Jim and I attended near Othello, WA the other day. I was invited by another cherry pilot I’d met on my blog and was meeting her for the first time. Jim came along. We both flew — in two helicopters. We had great Mexican food, met really nice people, and gave 12 lucky raffle winners helicopter rides around the orchards. We were promised artwork from the kids (hopefully like this piece I received last week after giving a grower’s kids a ride) so maybe I’ll blog about it then.
  • The Evolution of Twitter. This would cover my observations of two Twitter accounts I maintain, how I maintain them, and what the results are. I’m pretty sure I’ll write this one sometime this month.
  • On Skeptics. Why I’m a skeptic and how it makes me look at the world. I haven’t thought this one out much yet, so I might still write it. I know it needs to be written.

These are only a few topics I didn’t get a chance to write about. And if you know me, you know I’d write a lot more than I’ve written here. But when I get this book done, I have about a week before I need to start the next one. Maybe I’ll churn out some fresh and interesting content then.

Or maybe I’ll get out of this camper and away from my computer and enjoy the area while I’m here.

Why I Can’t Just Enjoy My New 13″ MacBook Pro

It really is a business expense.

13Last week, I finally broke down and ordered a new MacBook Pro. I’d been wanting a computer like the 13″ MacBook for a while, but what I really wanted was a Mac netbook. When Apple unveiled the 13″ MacBook Pro at the Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference earlier this month, I finally stopped denying the truth: that there would be no Mac netbook in my immediate future. Instead, I saw the new 13″ MacBook Pro as a reward for my patience. Not only did it have more features than the MacBook I’d been looking at, but it would cost less money.

Apple also announced some new features in Snow Leopard. While I’m not prepared (because of NDA stuff) to write publicly about Snow Leopard, I am in the middle of a revision to my Mac OS Visual QuickStart Guide for Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. One of the hurdles I was facing was not being able to show and discuss features of Mac OS X that work on the new MacBooks. About two years ago, I bought a 15-inch MacBook Pro to use as my “test mule” for writing about Leopard. That computer simply doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the newer models I need to write about.

It looked as if I’d have to buy a new MacBook Pro so I could write about it for my book.

This is both good and bad:

  • Good because having to buy a new computer for work means I can deduct the cost of it from my taxes. (I use my computers for all of my various business endeavors — I don’t play games on my computers. If I’m not working, I’m out having fun somewhere or sleeping.) And let’s face it: it’s always nice to have a computer with the latest technology.
  • Bad because having to buy a new computer means having to come up with the money to pay for it. Just because I can deduct it as a business expense doesn’t mean it’s free. (So many people don’t understand this simple fact: you still have to pay for business expenses; it’s just like being able to buy them at a discount equal to your tax bracket percentage.) In this case, the final price tag came to just under $2K. Ouch.

It’s also bad because I never seem able to buy a new computer and just enjoy it like a normal person.

Believe it or not, this is my first “unboxing” video. Let’s just say it doesn’t completely suck. The weird noises you hear in the background are coming from Alex the Bird.

Most folks buy a computer, open the box, fire it up, and start exploring. I, on the other hand, buy a computer, open the box, fire it up, erase the hard disk, and install beta operating system software on it. I then get to spend several weeks exploring the minutiae of the operating system’s elements, including every single window and dialog that might appear to the average user. I take screen shots of everything I see and write about it in an unbelievable level of detail.

So right now, as I type this, I’m waiting for the Developer Preview of Snow Leopard to install on my brand new, just-out-of-the-box 13″ MacBook Pro’s freshly erased hard disk. I’ll put some sample files on it, set it down on my workspace table beside my 24-inch iMac, get them talking to each other via AirPort network, and start exploring the current topic I’m writing about, which is the Dashboard and Widgets. I’ll put my old 15-inch MacBook Pro away in its case and set it atop the Dell laptop I’ve also brought along with me this summer to revise another book for another publisher.

When I get back to Arizona, if I’m not too busy doing other things, I’ll use the discs that came with the 13″ MacBook Pro to restore it to its factory hard drive configuration. Then maybe — just maybe — I’ll put it back in the box and have a reopening, trying my best to pretend it’s brand new again.

Why I Don’t Have an iPhone

Another answer to a frequently asked question.

Twentieth Anniversary MacintoshI’m a devoted Mac user and have been since I got my first Mac back in 1989. I’ve written dozens of books and hundreds of articles about Mac OS and applications that run on Macintosh computers. I currently own six Macs, including two Mac laptops, a 24″ iMac, and a Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. I have four iPods. I even own Apple stock.

But I don’t have an iPhone.

People ask me why I don’t have an iPhone. The answer is very simple: AT&T.

I won’t switch to AT&T. I’ve used them in the past and their service frankly sucks. I don’t like talking to India when I have a billing or technical support problem. I don’t like the fact that if they screw up your bill, you can’t get it fixed and they put a black mark on your credit report. For as little as $26 they claim you owe them.

ATT Coverage

AT&T’s Voice/Text Coverage

 

Verizon Coverage

Verizon Voice/Text Coverage

And if personal opinions regarding AT&T’s service aren’t enough, then let’s look at its service area. It simply doesn’t cover the areas I need coverage in. Like at my house — AT&T’s coverage is spotty. Or at our place on Howard Mesa — AT&T won’t work there at all. And other places I’ve been to.

Don’t believe me? Look at these two coverage maps, keeping in mind that I live in a small town on the edge of nowhere in Arizona. AT&T’s service in my town is through a “partner” — it doesn’t even have regular service here.

I need a cell phone that works everywhere I go. I go a lot of places in the west and I go a lot of places where there simply aren’t any cities. AT&T is a city cell phone provider.

Apple partnered with AT&T for the iPhone. While I believe this was a mistake, AT&T probably doesn’t think so. Right after the iPhone’s introduction, many users dropped their carriers (no pun intended) to switch to AT&T so they could buy iPhones. If Apple had gone with Verizon, it probably would have killed AT&T’s mobile business. It seems to me that the iPhone is the only reason someone might want to use AT&T.

I invested in a Palm Treo 700p with Verizon a month before the iPhone came out. I knew it was going to AT&T and I knew I couldn’t have one. So I invested in the Palm with a 2-year plan, just so I wouldn’t be tempted to do something stupid. I didn’t regret it at all. Although my Treo didn’t look slick, like an iPhone, it did things that an iPhone couldn’t do — like act as a Bluetooth modem to get my laptops on the Internet when I’m hanging around an off-the-grid cabin on top of an Arizona mesa. Or on a cruise ship off the coast of Alaska. Sure, an iPhone can connect to a WiFi network, but what if no network is available? Can it get a laptop on the ‘Net? My Treo could.

Blackberry StormLast month, I stepped up to a Blackberry Storm. The darn thing sure looks a lot like an iPhone. It even works a lot like an iPhone. Yes, I know there aren’t as many apps, but do I really need all that crap on my phone?

And guess what? Even though they told me it wouldn’t work, I can still use the phone’s Bluetooth connection to get my laptops on the ‘Net when there’s no WiFi network around. I can still sync flawlessly with my Mac’s Address Book, iCal Calendar, and other data applications. I have voice dialing, better Bluetooth support, MP3 player capabilities, a built-in GPS that works with the mapping application, and more features than I know what to do with.

So while I admit that I did look longingly at iPhones when I was a Treo user, I no longer feel as if I’m missing out. I have what I need in a cell phone — including the most important thing: coverage — and more to explore in a slick, user-friendly package.

Choosing a cell phone should be a logical decision; not an emotional one. Logic told me to stick with Verizon and choose the Treo and then the Storm.

Please don’t think I’m knocking the iPhone. I’m not. I’m just saying that it isn’t the only solution for an Apple user. Some things are more important than having a cool-looking, popular phone. Service and features are right at the top of my list. AT&T and the iPhone simply won’t deliver the service and features I need.

Back to Basics with my 12″ PowerBook

Who needs a netbook? I got this old clunker.

PowerBookYears ago, I bought a 12″ PowerBook. I was attracted to its small size and great power. Back when it was first released, you may remember, it was considered a tiny marvel. While other people flocked to the 17″ PowerBook, I wanted sheer portability and the 12″ was my dream laptop.

Time marches on. A G4 processor operating with 640 MB of RAM isn’t anyone’s dream machine anymore. Hell, when I tried to install Leopard on it last year, it was so slow I had to rebuild the hard disk with Tiger on it.

And I think that’s when I fell out of love with it.

You see, in the meantime, I’d bought a 15″ MacBook Pro. Not one of the new ones — this one is about two years old now. I’d bought it as a test mule — a computer to run software on while I write about the software. But when I finished my Leopard book in September 2007, I began using the MacBook Pro more and more. And when I couldn’t get Leopard to run on the 12″, I realized that it was silly to use an old laptop when I had a newer one. The 12″ wound up on the shelf.

But this morning I pulled it out and dusted it off and fired it up. I let it update Microsoft Office 2004 and various Apple software. I updated my ecto database to pull in all the blog entries I’d written over the past year. And I started writing this.

The sad part about this PowerBook is that the battery is so toasted that it won’t hold a charge for more than 20 minutes of operations. So as a portable computer for use in coffee shops, etc., it fails miserably. But plug it in and sit at the kitchen table and it does everything it’s supposed to.

I want a netbook. I’m sorely tempted by the Dell Mini 9. A buddy of mine says he can transform it into a Hackintosh for me. But I’m also hoping that Apple comes out with their own netbook. If they price it reasonably — and I’m talking about well under $1,000 — I’ll be the first on line to buy one.

And frankly, I don’t give a damn about the so-called “Apple Tax.” Dan Miller of Macworld.com was right in his article, “The Microsoft Discount.” He could be speaking for me when he says:

But for the benefit of my Windows-using friends, I will say for the record: I don’t use a Mac because it’s cool. I use it because it works better for me. I use it because it doesn’t stink.

I’ve got a hopped-up Windows laptop that’s way faster than this little old PowerBook. But when it came time to do a little blogging this morning, I left it gathering dust on the shelf.

Visual QuickStart Motor Skills

It’s all coming back to me.

It’s no secret that Apple will soon — well, hopefully sometime in 2009, anyway — release an update to Mac OS X. It should be numbered 10.6 and it’s definitely called Snow Leopard. But that’s all I can say about it. I’m under nondisclosure and I take this stuff very seriously.

I’m working on a revision to my Mac OS X Visual QuickStart Guide. I just rather belatedly realized that this is the first VQS I’ve worked on in over a year and a half. The last was Leopard (10.5), which was released the same day Leopard hit the Apple stores. I think it was late October 2007. I clearly remember working on it while I traveled. I even blogged about it here, here, here, and here.

I don’t just write VQSes. I also do layout. I write and lay out in InDesign. This year, it’s a real breeze. Not only do I have all the real estate on my 24″ iMac monitor, but I also have another 24″ of real estate on the Samsung sitting next to it.

As I work, I find myself repeating the same keystrokes and mouse drags I performed all those months ago. The shortcuts and techniques have all come back to me — my hands fly over the keyboard and mouse without consulting my brain — and miraculously, they get it right. I even reprogrammed Photoshop actions using the same keystrokes I used for the last VQS project.

Is it any wonder I can completely revise typical page, with new screenshots and added page references, in less than 30 minutes?

The page reference addition is something I’m pretty excited about. Because InDesign has always lacked a good cross-referencing feature, I had to manually reference everything. As a result, I kept it simple and stuck to chapter references. For example, “I tell you more about disks and volumes in Chapter 6.” But when InDesign CS4 was released, it had one feature that made it worth the upgrade for me: cross-referencing. I think that by referencing exact pages in the book, rather than making vague references to chapter numbers, I’m making the book far more valuable as a reference tool than ever before.

At this point, two chapters are done. I’ve got 24 more to go. I’m sure you’ll read more about my progress here.

You’ll have to wait until Snow Leopard hits the shelves to read more about it.