Catching up from deep within the Hole

So what'd I miss?

Yes, it's been over three months since I last stained your collective retinas with dubious opinions and even more dubious word choices. But Mr. Damage said at least three of you were threatening violence if a new MacHole didn't appear, so here be me. Be careful what you wish for.

A few interesting things have happened in the Wide World o' Mac since my last post in early September. New MacBook Airs, iOS 4.2, AirPrint, FaceTime, and the announcement of a Mac App store, just to name five. But you've already read about and/or used these things, so why should I write about them? Because I'm usually two or three months behind the news cycle anyway, you say? That hurts. It really does.

No, I'm going to even farther back in time this time and tell how once upon a time there was a time I needed a new mouse and my parents (who are bona fide old timers) needed a new iMac that would last until the end of time (theirs, not Time itself).

Aren't you glad I'm back?

First off, I acquired an Apple Magic Mouse  at full retail price from Best Buy (I had gift cards to use, people). Had I waited for Black Friday, I could've picked one up from Other World Computing for under fifty bucks. But if I possessed that level of prognosticatory abilities, I'd be typing this Hole from my office on Moon Base Six instead of in Dallas. If you haven't yet tried a Magic Mouse, I highly recommend purloining a colleague's for a test drive. The glass touch pad top surface is just awesome, giving you (or me in this case) a combo of mouse and touch pad.

Of course, that's also the problem with it.

The Magic Mouse lets you do all sorts of things with the touch pad. But the one glaring thing it doesn't do is let you configure it. Besides some rudimentary settings like the usual tracking speed, double-click rate and Magic Mouse-specific items such as two-finger navigation enabling, there isn't a lot to change up in the standard Apple preferences pane. Which became a real issue when I kept accidentally side-scrolling when using apps like InDesign, Photoshop, and Word. I'd even succumbed to errant vertical scrolling (the Magic Mouse's entire top surface is scroll-responsive) given my habit of dragging a finger over the mouse when moving it to the keyboard. Yes, lifting my hand high enough to avoid this is too strenuous for my dino-forearms. Back off.

Luckily, developer Vlad Alexa had the answer in a custom preference pane called MagicPrefs. MagicPrefs adds all the features you'd want when configuring your Magic Mouse, plus a lot you might not have thought of (and that I haven't even tried yet). In my case, I mainly use it to turn off horizontal scrolling in certain apps and to globally narrow the width of the vertical scrolling area. Just these two little tweaks have made my use of the Magic Mouse nearly accident-free. Other options include customizable two-finger, three-finger and four-finger clicks; customizable "taps" (which are noted as being difficult to use); multi-finger swipes; and dragging and pinching. And it does all this without any kernel-hacking voodoo or CPU hogging.

Oh, and did I mention it's free?

On another front, I managed to convince my parents to get a new iMac on Cyber Monday. They had been using a 17-inch G5 iMac purchased in January of 2005 just before I loaded up the family and moved to Texas. That machine technically still worked fine, but it was also technically obsolete. And its sweet 256 megabytes of RAM didn't help matters. Or that it couldn't be upgraded to the latest versions of, well, anything given its non-Intel architecture.

My parents mainly use their computer for e-mail, iPhoto, and watching videos of the grandkids (they have eight; only three are mine). High amounts of power are not required or, given the price of said power, desired by them. However, given that their G5 choked on processing even YouTube- or Vimeo-based files, and that they were missing out on video chatting, a new machine was in order. Especially since I'm the one who has to troubleshoot the machine from afar.

And so, a base model 21-inch iMac i3 arrived on my doorstep just hours before Mom and Dad showed up for a post-Thanksgiving visit. I must say, having not spent any real time on an iMac since, umm, ever, the machine is quite nice even in base form. It sports a 3.06GHz Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. Sure, I'd fill up that hard drive and overpower the RAM and processor in about 10 minutes. But my parents had a whopping 80GB of files on their old machine, so I think Mom's good for another 53 years of photo taking. Assuming advancements in robotics allow her to live until she's 119 Willard Scott-amazin' years old.

Of course, the real challenge wasn't setting up the machine, since Apple makes the process fairly easy—especially because I already had a FireWire cable with which to transfer all the files. The challenge is teaching my parents the different UI of an iPhoto that's now four generations past the copy they were using. A challenge that was not helped by Apple's bizarro tweaking of elements like editing and emailing. I won't rant about those things here, but they seemed like change for the sake of change, which is vastly different from change for the sake of betterment. Or butterment, depending on what you're doing.

In the end, everything got squared away and my parents are back in lovely Independence, Missouri, sending me photos of the children I see every day in my own house. My mom even learned to scroll with the included Magic Mouse (I did not install MagicPrefs for fear of option overload) with about two seconds of practice, so there's that. She vows this is the last computer they'll ever buy. I hope that just means I'll have to buy them new machines in the future as opposed to the alternative. Because I doubt this machine will power through the Star Wars-esque holographic IM'ing that's coming in 2016.

Hmmm, maybe I should've had them get the i7 after all.



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