First, the bag itself. I love Tom Bihn bags. In addition to this backpack and its clip-in accessory pouches, I own two messenger bags and an assortment of other pouches. They are super high-quality and supremely functional. As you’ll see when I show you how much stuff I can cram into this bag and still have plenty of room to spare!
Let’s look at the contents of the red pouch. That’s where I keep adapters and thumb drives.
Oh, and an iPod nano, for some reason.
I need napkins (and/or paper towels) a lot. I can’t stand having a runny nose, or spilling things. Whatever the reason, I carry a few around with me all the time. I know it’s probably not the best for the environment, but I do buy recycled as much as possible. Anyway, that’s what the black pouch is for. And the large black thing is a padded sleeve perfectly sized for the 11-inch MacBook Air.
Next up, another bag-within-a-bag. This is the one non-Tom Bihn case I use. It’s a Roocase for the iPad mini. The iPad mini actually just barely fits in it, which is fine. I take my iPad mini with me to meetings, especially first-time meetings with new clients, because it doesn’t create a wall like having a laptop on the desk does. I have also stopped carrying my laptop when I travel for pleasure, so the iPad in the Roocase is all I bring. In addition to protecting the iPad, the Roocase has a side pocket into which I manage to shove a Field Notes notebook, Space Pen, headphones and some business cards.
And finally… everything else. This is the entirety of what I had in my backpack when I came to work this morning, aside from some running clothes I had also shoved in but don’t really feel I need to show here.
Look at all that stuff! From top left to bottom right, we have:
No longwinded backstory in this post. I’m just posting this here so I can remember it if I ever have to install again, since I seem to keep forgetting.
If you’re trying to install Windows 8 (or Windows 7) on a MacBook Air, and you boot to the Windows CD (from a SuperDrive, of course), you may find that when you try to select the BOOTCAMP partition, you get an error stating that Windows can’t be installed on this drive, because it’s in GPT format, and you need to have an NTFS partition.
Well, it doesn’t matter if you have that partition formatted as NTFS or not. The error is happening because of the way you booted up!
Quit the installer, and restart, holding down the Option key. Then when the disk selection comes up, don’t select the Windows installer, select EFI Boot instead. That’s it!
I am at a crossroads in my work situation. Since 2008 I have worked as a freelance web developer, which naturally meant using a laptop as my primary/only computer. I worked mostly from home, but I would frequently go to coffeehouses, and occasionally work on-site at client offices. A portable computer was a must.
The same week that Steve Jobs announced the 11-inch MacBook Air, I went out and purchased one. It was exactly what I wanted: a full-blown Mac, (almost) as small as an iPad (which of course I already owned as well, but mainly used for testing, occasional gaming, and watching all six seasons of Lost in the span of a month on Netflix, not for “real work”). I loved the MacBook Air. I said it was the best Mac I’d ever owned, though I admitted it was a tad underpowered. Enough so that when SLP needed a new computer 6 months later, I gave her my MacBook Air instead and bought myself a new, slightly more powerful version of the same.
That MacBook Air has been my only computer ever since. In fact, shortly after switching to it full-time, I wrote a glowing review of it right here. But last April I moved my business into a storefront studio space. I’m not going to coffeehouses anymore. Now, more often than not, clients come to me instead of the other way around. And all of this time I’ve been sitting at a desk, with that same 11-inch MacBook Air hooked up to an HP 23-inch LCD. (Yes, HP. I may be a self-proclaimed Apple fanboy, but even I can’t justify the expense of one of their Cinema Display monitors.)
It’s in this context that I’ve finally really become aware of the performance limitations of the 2010 MacBook Air. It’s unbearably slow with Adobe Creative Suite apps. It’s even unbearably slow running Panic’s Coda. And no computer today should choke up on what is essentially a glorified text editor. (That said… As much as I love Coda, it does seem bloated and slow almost everywhere I’ve used it. There’s no comparison to the blazing speed of BBEdit, which I also love, but Coda has some features I prefer, so it remains my main coding tool.)
Over the past few months, as my workload has increased and my patience has diminished, I can no longer pretend that the 2010 MacBook Air’s performance is adequate for my needs. I know the 2012 Airs are at least 3 times faster than the one I have, and I’m sure this year’s will be even faster, and maybe even have a Retina display, and therein lies the problem: I’ve been desperately wanting to upgrade my Mac, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy one of the current 11-inch Airs (the only portable I will consider) when they’re getting so close to a refresh.
At the same time, I have a major crunch at work over the next 3 months. I couldn’t afford to wait on my creaky old Air anymore. So last weekend I settled on a compromise, borne of the fact that I almost never touch my MacBook Air outside of the studio anymore. I got a Mac mini for the studio. I went with the more powerful quad-core i7 model, which is rated on Geekbench as at least 6 times faster than my old MacBook Air, and almost twice as fast as the current ones.
I’ve already noticed a huge difference. Adobe Creative Suite is way faster, almost to the point of no longer being infuriating. (But that’s another story.) Coda is still occasionally sluggish, but that may have more to do with the fact that I’m working with files on our local file server over a questionable WiFi connection. I should try putting the files directly on my hard drive to see if it makes a difference.
But now I am faced with a weird dilemma. This is the first desktop computer I’ve owned since the Dell I had back in 2001, and the first Mac desktop since even before that. (It was a Bondi blue G3 tower, if you were wondering.) The dilemma is this: in a world of iPads, where I am already pretty much never touching my MacBook Air outside of work, do I really need a portable Mac at all?
I still have the Air, of course, and have continued to lug it around next to my iPad in my Tom Bihn bag this week. But why? In the two meetings I had this week at client offices, I only used my iPad. Maybe the iPad is really all I need. Maybe?
I have a few months to find out. I won’t consider buying another MacBook Air until the new models are out, so in the meantime I will experiment. I will try only using the iPad for any and all computing tasks outside of the studio. I’ve begun that today, by typing this blog post on it as I sit at the kitchen counter with my Saturday morning coffee. It’s been a bit of a challenge. I gave up on using the WordPress web interface and switched to the (marginally better) dedicated iPad app. And I’ve made lots of typos… some that iOS auto-corrected, some it didn’t, and some false positives it shouldn’t have. (C’mon, iPad… use some context, would ya? Why would anyone ever write “you we’re”?)
The biggest challenge will be if I have to write some actual code. But it’s a far different world for that than it was even a year ago. I have a handful of coding apps on my iPad, though nothing I have could be more valuable than another pair of apps from Panic: Diet Coda (great name, BTW) and Prompt, a terminal app. I haven’t had much call to use either of them… yet. But I’ve been comforted knowing they’re there.
At the end of this month we’re planning a family vacation to Utah. That may prove to be the ultimate test. Do I dare leave for a week with only my iPad? Honestly, I’m not sure I can. It will depend on the state of my various work projects at that time. But I’d like to be able to give it a try.
I’ll post follow-ups here as the experiment continues.
In the spirit of “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” I will refrain from writing about last night’s midterm election results, except to say, “Don’t blame Minneapolis.” Also, to quote Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, “If you survive, please come again.” The next two years will either prove or disprove the merits of the Tea Party movement, and if we’re lucky we’ll still be around in two years to start cleaning up the mess.
OK, I knew I couldn’t avoid saying something snarky about it, but that’s it. No more. Let’s move on to something fun… ME! I’m taking a look back at the top 10 posts on Underdog of Perfection, based on the number of hits they’ve received according to WordPress stats. Without further ado… I present the all-time top 10 Underdog of Perfection posts to date.
OK, just a little further ado: here’s a chart of my hit count over the past month.
January 17, 2009 — When the gross picture of mechanically-separated chicken exploded as a full-fledged meme last month, as part of a factually challenged story hyping the dangers of the stuff (come on… you don’t need to make up stuff like “bathed in ammonia”; the truth is bad enough), I immediately recognized the picture as one I had seen about a year before. As I recalled, I had seen it on TotallyLooksLike.com next to a strawberry soft serve. I had forgotten that I had created that “totally looks like” image, which apparently is no longer available on that site, but is still on mine. Hence, traffic!
August 23, 2009 — Rants are always good for some hits, especially when it’s something other people are annoyed by too. The fact is, the Honda Fit iPod controls suck, and Honda doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it, so I suspect as each model year is introduced, this post will generate more… traffic!
May 16, 2010 — Writing about technical issues surrounding web development is one of the ostensible purposes of this blog, especially since I went freelance, so it’s gratifying to see my fellow developers relying on me for information, on those rare occasions when I actually have some to share. Thanks for the traffic! (I really didn’t set out to end each of these with the word “traffic” but it seems now that I am destined to do so. Um… traffic.)
October 27, 2010 — Being just a week old, this may be the fastest ascension of any post I’ve written to date. I suspect a lot of that has to do with the timeliness of the topic, but given the vague and keyword-free title (take that, SEO strategists!), the most logical explanation for its popularity is surely the conscious effort I made to promote it. Near the end of the post I make reference to the review of the MacBook Air by Jason Snell for Macworld. I also tweeted an announcement of the post, and stuck in an @jsnell, both in honest appreciation of his review, but also in the somewhat crass hope that he would retweet it. Which he (and several others, most notably Michael Gartenberg) did. Boom! Traffic!
July 25, 2007 — I’m glad some of these “random observation” posts are generating traffic. I believe I’ve spent a grand total of less than 5 minutes of my life inside Brooks Brothers stores, but I’ve pondered their bizarre logo for much longer, and the fact that others have too has brought my blog significant traffic.
March 1, 2009 — I kind of wish some of these posts would stay buried. Three of the top four all-time posts on my blog are related to issues with Apple products, specifically, issues with early releases and/or beta software. People continue to visit these posts long after they’ve become irrelevant. Seriously, Safari 4 Beta? It’s currently up to version 5.0.2! Please, this post needs no more traffic!
June 8, 2009 — Here’s another post pertaining to early software, and one that’s way past its sell-by date. Here, from an SEO perspective, we have an interesting case study: a keyword-laden but still generic title. What iPhone Facebook problem? The post was referring to the dilemma of iPhone users who were stuck with the then-crappy iPhone Facebook app or the then-crappy iPhone-optimized Facebook mobile site. The best option at the time, in my opinion, was the non-iPhone mobile site, but Facebook had a redirect built into that site that would automatically take iPhone users to the inferior iPhone mobile site. I found a way around that, and shared it in the post.
This is not really relevant anymore, but now any time there is any kind of problem with iPhones and Facebook, this post sees a surge in traffic.
March 9, 2009 — I’m always a bit annoyed when I look at my stats and see this post near (or at) the top. To me it’s a long-dead issue, but apparently not. I just showed this solution to SLP yesterday, so the problem still persists, and whenever I get a new Mac or reinstall my software, I have to remember to go in and deal with this again.
I don’t know whether or not I’m in the minority of Mac users here, though I suspect not, but I do not like the multitouch features of the MacBook trackpad. The only one I use is two-finger scrolling. That’s nice, but the rest are just an unwanted nuisance. I forget they even exist until I trigger them accidentally when I’m trying to do something else. Then I have to dig into System Preferences again and turn them off. Apple may love multitouch, and it’s great on iOS devices, but clearly there’s some distaste for it on the Mac, which for me means traffic.
P.S. You may notice a logical inconsistency here: the rankings in this list — specifically, the placement within the rankings of #10 and #6 — don’t jibe with the chart I showed at the top. That’s because most of the traffic driven to my site in the wake of the mechanically-separated chicken meme went to the home page, for whatever reason, not directly to the post. In which case those visitors would have completely missed the mark. In short, it’s a failure both for Google and WordPress Stats. Great job!
Last Tuesday night, I was sitting in a chair upstairs in my house*, with my 15-inch MacBook Pro, my iPad, and my iPhone 3GS all on my lap. And I had a revelation…
I’m a huge nerd!
No, not that revelation. I had that long ago. The revelation was…
This is ridiculous!
Earlier in the evening, I had spent a considerable amount of time hunting, as I had several times before, for a workable iPad app for writing code. I decided to spring for the $6.99 for Gusto, which seems promising. But since it currently doesn’t support SFTP (due to government regulations on encryption software, which the company says it’s working on), it’s completely useless to me in its present state. The bottom line: while there’s plenty I can do with an iPad, I still can’t do my work on one, which limits its usability.
The conclusion I had last Tuesday night was simple and obvious: I need a Mac that’s as small as an iPad.
And then came Wednesday. Steve Jobs must have been reading my mind on Tuesday night, and then he hopped in his Delorean to go back in time* a few months and develop a solution to the problem I had only just realized I had. Because at the Back to the Mac event Apple held that day, Steve Jobs introduced my dream computer: the 11-inch MacBook Air.
The moment I saw it, I knew I needed it. I worried a bit that it might be underpowered, or its storage capacity might be too small. But that’s not important. It would fit in the CaseCrown iPad messenger bag I had recently purchased, and that was all that mattered.
OK, performance mattered too. So before buying one, I wanted to try it out and see if it could handle what I was going to throw at it. I’d call myself a “power user” (if it didn’t sound so stupid), although I don’t usually push my Mac’s limits in terms of processing power: I rarely edit video (unfortunately), and my work in Photoshop is usually limited to small, web-scale graphics. But I do often have a lot of programs open at once: I’ll be coding in Coda; uploading files with Transmit; checking email; previewing sites in Safari, Firefox and Chrome (and occasionally bothering to check them in Internet Explorer too, which means running Parallels Desktop); writing project proposals in Pages; and editing images in Photoshop… all while keeping the music running constantly in iTunes.
My somewhat idiosyncratic suite of applications wasn’t on the demo unit at the Apple Store, of course, but I did the best I could to push the little dynamo to full capacity: I opened all of the iWork and Microsoft Office applications at once, and then simultaneously ran a video preview in iMovie, played back a multitrack audio project in GarageBand, and watched the Close Encounters of the Third Kind trailer in iTunes. All of the video and audio ran perfectly even under these conditions, and at that moment I knew I wouldn’t be walking out of the store without a MacBook Air in my hand. I also picked up the external SuperDrive (for CD/DVD access), and I supplemented the feeble 128 GB of Flash storage with a portable external 1 TB USB drive from Seagate.
I spent most of Saturday afternoon installing applications and transferring files from my MacBook Pro to the MacBook Air. Make no mistake, my goal from the moment I laid eyes on it has been clear: this machine was going to replace both the MacBook Pro and the iPad in my “digital lifestyle.” Which means that I am also doing that thing that so many of the tech bloggers are asking if it’s even possible: I’m using the 11-inch MacBook Air as my only computer. I’m on day three of this experiment, and days one and two were heavy work days. Here’s a summary of my experiences so far.
The MacBook Air’s screen is indeed small, but its high resolution makes up for the lack of physical space. It’s basically like a widescreen iPad: the vertical pixel count is the same (768 pixels), with the horizontal increased substantially (from 1024 to 1366). Its dimensions are comparable to the iPad’s, which means its pixel density is about the same.
The image is very clear and sharp. But it’s also making me realize my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. It’s also not directly comparable to the iPad, because I would typically have the iPad’s screen about a foot from my face, but the MacBook Air is usually at least twice as far away. When I’m working on it directly it’s acceptable. But at my desk I attach the MacBook to a 19-inch LCD and use the MacBook’s own display as a secondary monitor. In this layout the screen is even farther from my face, and I do have a bit of trouble reading it clearly at that distance.
In short, although the screen is small, it has a high pixel count and dense resolution, so it’s a very usable size, albeit a bit challenging for aging eyes.
Tip: I’ve always kept the Dock on the bottom of my screen, but the demo unit had it on the left, which seems to make sense given the widescreen aspect ratio on this screen. I’m trying it out and so far I really like it, even though I do sometimes accidentally go to the Dock when I mean to go to the tool palette in Photoshop.
128 GB is not a lot of storage space anymore. My first Mac, back in 1994, had an 80 MB hard drive. Times change. I knew I’d never be able to fit my 250 GB iTunes library on the MacBook Air, but I was worried that I wouldn’t even be able to fit Mac OS X plus all of my applications on it. I’m pleased to say though that I was able to install all of the applications I regularly use, plus all of the iTunes content I keep on my 32 GB iPhone (allowing me to sync the phone), and I still have over 62 GB free. I’m planning to allocate about 20 GB for a Boot Camp Windows 7 set-up, but that will still leave about 40 GB for data files for future projects. The bottom line is that 128 GB is an acceptable bare minimum for my needs, but I would not have been able to get by with the 64 GB base model.
As noted above, I’m supplementing the on-board storage with a 1 TB external drive. It’s an investment I definitely recommend if you’re considering a MacBook Air. Not only is it great for Time Machine backup, but I’ve been able to load all of my iTunes and iPhoto data on it, plus archives of all of my digital crap dating back to 1994. It’s small enough and light enough to go with me in the messenger bag, too, so if I do need to access anything that’s on it, I’ll have it with me.
Tip: In order to make this work, I needed to manage two separate iTunes libraries. This is a lot easier than it might seem. When starting iTunes, hold down the Option key. iTunes will give you the opportunity to select a different library or create a new one. Same goes for iPhoto.
My old MacBook Pro had a 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, almost double the 1.4 GHz unit in the MacBook Air. Processor speed is important for heavy-duty tasks like video editing, but in practice, I find the computer’s speed is far more a factor of its hard drive performance. Read-write operations are so much faster with Flash storage than with a traditional hard drive that with the kinds of day-to-day tasks I do, the MacBook Air seems at least as fast, if not faster, than the old MacBook Pro.
I knew going into this experiment that the biggest sacrifice I would be making was in giving up half of my RAM. My old MacBook Pro has 4 GB of RAM, and the stock MacBook Air comes with 2 GB. You can get a MacBook Air with 4 GB of RAM, but it has to be installed at the factory (since it’s soldered right onto the logic board), which means you have to special order it. I was too impatient for that, as well as reluctant to drop an extra $100, so I went with the stock 2 GB.
The biggest impact of this limitation for me is that I can’t keep as many applications open at once as before. I had gotten to the point where I never even paid attention to how many applications I had running, and rarely bothered to quit an application when I was done using it.
Tip: In the Mac OS X era, we Mac users no longer have to worry about manually setting memory allocations for our applications, but Parallels Desktop does still need to have its virtual machines’ memory limits set. I copied over my Parallels VMs from the old MacBook Pro, where I had given them each 2 GB of RAM. Doing this on the MacBook Air was not good… the thing ground to a halt when I fired up Parallels. Reducing the VMs’ memory allocation to 768 MB solved the problem.
Apple has touted the battery life of the new MacBook Air line with claims that the 13-inch can last up to 7 hours on a single charge, and the 11-inch 5 hours. I haven’t taken the time to log my actual usage time, but so far I’ve run down the fully charged battery twice. On Monday and Tuesday I had it plugged in all day as I worked, and then went on battery power in the evening while I spent some time organizing my data files, doing a bit more work, and of course always listening to music on iTunes. Anecdotally, I’d estimate I’ve been getting at least 4 hours of battery time under these conditions.
Today’s usage is probably the most relevant yet. I ran on battery at a coffeehouse this morning for about three hours. Now I’ve been running for about another half hour on battery power at MIA, and the battery indicator is saying I have 1:47 remaining. Not bad. This definitely beats the battery life in my old MacBook Pro. Then again, I almost never ran the MBP on battery power. It’s so big it doesn’t really feel like a portable device in the same way as the Air, and whenever I would go anywhere with it, my first instinct was to locate an electrical outlet and plug in. The MacBook Air feels portable and “unplugged” in the way that up to now only the iPad did.
It’s perfect. Jason Snell has it right: “It’s quite possibly the most desirable laptop Apple has ever made.” Indeed.