A Profile Trifecta

Another 45 minutes of fame?

In 1968, Andy Warhol shared the immortal words, “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” If that’s true, I got another 45 minutes worth this past week when interviews with me were published in various formats in three publications.

The Saturday Evening Post

The first was, of all things, the Saturday Evening Post. Yeah — the same publication famous for Normal Rockwell Americana paintings on its cover. I honestly admit that I didn’t know it was still being published. But it is and one of my former editors at Peachpit (I think) and InformIT now works there. She passed my name along to a writer, Nick Gilmore, who does their “Second Chapters” column about career changes. I think he was surprised to hear that I had not one but two career changes. He focused on the second change in his piece about me. You can read it for yourself here: “Second Chances: Write or Flight.” I think he did an amazing job, cramming a ton of information into fewer than 1200 words.

Saturday Evening Post Article

The Mac Observer

A little after my interview with the Saturday Evening Post, I was approached about doing a podcast episode for The Mac Observer‘s “Background Mode” podcast. Podcaster John Martellaro, who is also a pilot, flattered me a bit by calling me a “legendary” Mac author. Our talk was remarkably similar to the Post interview, touching on many of the same topics. Oddly, it was released the same day as the Post piece. You can listen to it here: “TMO Background Mode Interview with Author, Photographer and Pilot Maria Langer.”

Background Mode

The Good Life

Good Life Cover
If I’d known that a photo of me would appear on the front cover of the magazine, I probably would have put on some makeup and brushed my hair.

For a short while last year, I belonged to a writer’s group here in the Wenatchee area. That’s where I met Jaana Hatton, a world traveler (literally) who had settled in the Wenatchee area and was building a career as a writer. She asked if she could interview me about my beekeeping activities for The Good Life, a local monthly magazine. I said yes, mostly to help her out. She came out for a chat one day and a magazine photographer came a few weeks later for photos and a video. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a photo of me, looking typically disheveled, would appear on the front cover of the magazine’s August issue! If you’re interested, you can read the article here: “BEE RANCHER: Keeping the buzz alive.”

People Find Me

What amazes me most about all three of these profile pieces is that in each case it was the author/podcaster who tracked me down for an interview. I wasn’t looking for publicity — the days of me wanting or needing that are long gone. But apparently people think I’m interesting, which is rather amusing to me. I’m just moving forward with my life. There’s nothing special about me — anyone who is driven to make the most of their life can be interview-worthy, too.

A New Computer

The end of a rough month brings a nice reward.

I’d been thinking about replacing my aging 24-inch iMac computer with a newer, faster model for some time. I almost did it in April, but some Twitter friends wisely advised me to wait for the new models, which were due out in May. By that time, I was hard at work on My Mac OS X Lion book, racing against a deadline set not only by the software’s pending release but by my annual trip to Washington State for cherry drying work. I didn’t get the book done before I had to leave, so I packed up my iMac and other office equipment and headed north. I decided to wait until I was finished with the book. If I had a computer sitting there, waiting for me to set it up, I’d be too distracted to get any work done.

Death of a[nother] Hard Disk

Not buying the new computer turned out to be a bad decision. On Friday, June 17, the iMac gave me a weird error message about ejecting a disk — when I hadn’t ejected a disk. I was running out the door to take care of other business and when my computer wouldn’t shut down the usual way, I just powered it off. Later that day, it wouldn’t start from its internal hard disk.

That’s when I started to realize I might have a problem.

I knew I had a problem the next day when Disk Utility — the Mac software that can usually fix disk and directory related problems — couldn’t fix the disk.

My last full backup had been in May. I use Time Machine for effortless backup, but I’d disconnected the backup drive when I left home. Although I didn’t bring the drive with me last year, I did bring it this year. I’d been thinking about hooking it back up, but laziness got the best of me. So my most recent backup was about three weeks old.

Since then, I’d written at least a dozen chapters of my book.

I was lucky. Really lucky. I was able to mount the disk and suck important documents off it — including those all-important manuscript files. I also sucked off the applications, which had not been backed up. With my most important files on an external hard disk and the big Time Machine backup handy, I tried to format the hard disk, figuring I’d reinstall the software I needed to finish up the book.

My luck didn’t hold. The hard disk just wouldn’t consistently mount. I couldn’t successfully reinstall the operating system on it. It looked as if it needed a new hard disk. Again.

A Temporary Solution

So now I had a book project due very soon that required a working computer with a big monitor to complete. After all, I do layout for my Visual QuickStart Guide books and I shudder to think of laying out a book in InDesign on a 13-in MacBook Pro.

I stayed amazingly calm. First, I hopped into the truck and went to Wenatchee. At Costco, I bought yet another portable WD 1TB USB hard disk.

Yes, I know FireWire would be faster, but it isn’t as if Wenatchee, WA has a lot of choices when it comes to computer hardware. Besides, rain was moving in and there was a good chance I’d need to fly. I didn’t have time to look for a better option.

A new internal hard disk was out of the question. Special tools and expertise is required to disassemble an iMac and install a hard disk. I lacked both.

So I set up a USB hard disk with Snow Leopard, Photoshop, and InDesign. I had the original discs with me, since I planned to do a clean install on my new computer when I got it. I didn’t even bother updating any of them. I just got back to work.

And I was surprised. I expected the computer to be painfully slow. After all, it was booting from an external USB 2 hard disk. It was running some pretty intense software from the same disk. Although I saw a spinning beach ball a lot more often than I like to, it was tolerable.

The New Computer

Of course, while all that software was installing, I was on my laptop, configuring the computer’s replacement. I ordered a very sweet system:

    27" iMac

  • Computer Model: 27-inch iMac – the monitor size is 3 inches larger than my old computer, but it’s widescreen instead of standard so it really doesn’t seem that much bigger.
  • Processor: 3.4GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 – this is the best and fastest processor offered for this computer. The Apple sales guy told me that it was faster than current Mac Pro models. (Of course, those are due to be updated shortly.)
  • RAM: 8GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM (2x4GB) – this is twice as much RAM as I had. And the configuration will allow me to double it in the future because there are 4 RAM slots and I’m only using two.
  • Hard Drives: 1TB Serial ATA Drive + 256GB SSD – yes, that’s two hard disks to destroy.
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon HD 6970M 2GB GDDR5 – this is the best offered. I figured it would come in handy for my video editing work.
  • Mouse: Apple Mouse – call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like to depend on battery power for a mouse. Besides, already I have all kinds of Bluetooth pointing devices I had to buy to write about.
  • Keyboard: Apple Num Keyboard – I don’t like to depend on batteries for a keyboard, either. I do have a Bluetooth keyboard if I decide I want to use it.

The computer cost a small fortune. I get a minuscule discount from Apple as a Peachpit author; it was almost enough to cover sales tax. But I can justify the expense. I use my desktop computer for so many things in all of my business endeavors, from writing and laying out books to processing video to invoicing and accounting to creating marketing materials. Why settle for less than the best (if you can afford it) when the best can make you more productive?

It took nine days for the computer to arrive. It was shipped via FedEx directly from China. (I sure do wish Apple and other companies would build things here.) It was delivered to my RV in Quincy, WA, where I’m living for the summer, the day I finished writing the book. It sat in its box overnight as I finished up a bunch of editing.

There was no unboxing ceremony. I deactivated Photoshop and InDesign on my old iMac and shut it down. I moved it from desk to countertop, wiped down the desk, and set up the new computer.

I know this is going to make me sound like an Apple fan-girl, but as I took the crystal clear cellophane off the monitor, I couldn’t help but think how beautiful the computer was. And, as I thought about it, I realized how incredibly weird that was. Hell, it’s just a computer.

Setting Up

My Hard DisksBecause the computer had two internal hard disks, I decided to get a bit fancy with the setup. I left the operating system and applications on the smaller SSD drive and moved my Home folder to the larger ATA drive. I didn’t just put my home folder on that drive. I made my home folder the drive itself. Not only does the disk icon look like a Home folder icon, but when you open it, you find the contents of my Home folder. One less level of folders to dig through.

As for hard disk names, I always try to give my disks meaningful names. Now I had two disks to name. It was quite a dilemma for me. I put it to my Twitter friends and @BrianDunning came up with an interesting suggestion: Cyclic and Collective. At first, I didn’t think they were quite right. But the names grew on me and I wound up using them.

I spent most of yesterday installing software from original program disks and downloads from the Internet. My Internet connection here is via MyFi with a 3 GB monthly bandwidth cap. (I’ve already hit 6 GB this month; that’ll cost me an extra $30.) So I did most of my downloading from a coffee shop yesterday morning and from a wine bar yesterday afternoon. Microsoft Office 2011 was contained in a 1 GB file; other updaters were nearly as large. Had a hiccup with my Final Cut Pro installation and had to restart it; sure hope it works this time because it seems to take forever.

As for Time Machine, I also bought a Seagate 2TB desktop hard drive at Costco. I set that up to back up both drives. I plan on getting some mirroring software to mirror each disk on portable drives. That’ll be a total of two full backups. Lesson learned.

I have some final editing to do on my book and I expect to get to that this afternoon. I’m sure it’ll take quite a while to get the new computer set up the way I need it to. But I’m looking forward to the process and having a clean installation of software and files on a much faster computer.

Why I Bought a MacBook Air

I needed a new test mule. Really.

MacBook Air MeasurementsToday, I finally broke down and bought an 11-in MacBook Air. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it basically a full-powered Mac OS computer that measures in at 11.8 x 7.56 x 0.68 inches and weighs 2.3 pounds. It’s the laptop I wanted two years ago when I needed a new laptop and the smallest thing Apple offered was a 13-in MacBook Pro.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow LeopardOf course, back then I did buy the MacBook Pro. I bought it as a “test mule” for the book I was working on: Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide for Peachpit Press. Test mule is my name for a computer I own primarily to run software on while I’m writing a book about the software. I bought the 13-in MacBook Pro to run Snow Leopard, which had several features that took advantage of the computer’s touchpad. My older MacBook Pro (15-inch; just handed it off to my husband for use) didn’t support all the new features. At the time, I even wrote a blog post lamenting why I couldn’t fully enjoy my new computer.

When I was finished with the book, I outfitted the computer for my own everyday use. It would replace the aged 12-in PowerBook I’d bought long before. (At this point, you must think that I’ve had a lot of Macs since my first one in 1989. You’d be right.) Since then, the old test mule has become my traveling computer and has been many miles with me.

Outlook for Mac 2011Recently, when I began working on Microsoft Outlook for Mac 2011 Step by Step for Microsoft Press, I needed a test mule to run Office 2011 on while I wrote the book. I didn’t want to sacrifice my 13″ MacBook Pro, since it had really become my main travel computer. So I dug out my 15-in MacBook Pro and installed the software on that. It worked like a charm. Problem solved.

But now I’m starting work on a new book about software that simply won’t run on that old 15-in MacBook Pro. Worse yet, if I installed the software on my 13-in MacBook Pro, it would significantly impact how I could use the computer. This was quite a dilemma.

I had two options:

  • Stop using the 13-in MacBook Pro as a travel computer and use it as a test mule. Hmmm…that sounds like fun. Either face the next two months without a laptop or spend hours on the time-consuming, nightmarish task of shifting software and data files to the older laptop still in my possession.
  • Buy a new test mule. And oh, by the way, wouldn’t that 11-in MacBook Air that you’ve been admiring be the perfect machine for the job?

Guess which option was more attractive to me (although less attractive to my bank account)?

MacBook AirI picked it up at the Apple Store today. I went all out and got the faster processor, bigger flash drive, and 4 GB of RAM. I got a tiny discount because of my relationship with one of my publishers and that saved enough money to buy a neoprene case for it. The wireless Epson printer, which I’ll use in my RV this summer, was free after rebate.

So now I can begin a new lament. As I type this in my Phoenix office on my 13-in MacBook Pro, sitting beside it on the desk is my brand new 11-in MacBook Air. So far, I’ve plugged it in, started it up, told it who I am and how to access the network, and downloaded 1.6 GB of updates to installed software. Not exactly fun stuff. But right now, it’s downloading the beta software I need to write my book. All work, no play for this new puppy.

It’s okay. when I’m done with this book and the other projects lined up after it, I might actually use it for my own computing needs. We’ll see.