I Think I Am John Hodgman, Part IV

Continued from Parts I, II, III

Leopard Hat: Art to Wear by Kate SchaeferSo it was getting to the point where I had to get a new computer. The PC, poor thing, was acting like it had been rode hard and put away wet, to quote Dan Rather.

If this essay contains typos, it isn’t because I can’t spell. It’s because this keyboard has begun doubling and skipping letters. It particularly likes to turn “to” into “too,” one of my least favorite common Internet typos, right up there with “her’s” and “their’s.”

But I was keeping on using it, pushing my luck, because shopping is not my strong suit.

While I continued to dither and moan about shopping, a friend came through town on a visit. My friend is a power shopper. The only reason I have any nice clothes (except for my Kate Schaefer “Art to Wear” black velvet kimono and patchwork vest; Kate has not yet quite persuaded me to wear a cocktail hat) is that when she comes to town, we go shopping, and she bullies me, gently, into buying nice things. She’s also a Mac user, and one of the reasons I decided to switch platforms.

This time we didn’t go shopping for clothes.

“Computer shopping?” she said, soon after she arrived.

So we set out.

You’ll recall that the last time I went to the Mac store, I turned into John Hodgman, froze the display machine, and slunk out.

My friend is not John Hodgman. She’s the 80-year-old equivalent of Justin Long, and store clerks (even computer store clerks — do computer stores have clerks?) do not ignore her. They recognize a power shopper when they see one, and come to worship at her feet.

Which is exactly what happened at the computer store. I didn’t change out of being John Hodgman, but I did reflect enough of her power-shopper glow to get noticed.

Now granted the computer store guys found it a little odd to be compelled to worship at the feet of somebody four times their age, but they were seduced by her power and submitted to it gracefully. Soon several of them were hovering around showing us different machines and expounding on the qualities of each. It took them a while to realize that I was the one buying the machine.

“She’s my Mac guru,” I said.

They’re fortunate she was along with me, because I bought a bit more machine than I’d planned on; my friend encouraged me, and I think she was right to do so.

I was still charmed by the Air, but the MacBook Pro had more everything, and since I don’t do an enormous amount of travelling in which having a featherweight machine would be a benefit, the larger (for values of “larger” equivalent to “half the weight of the computer I have now”) machine was more practical. A computer is the main physical tool of my trade, and it really isn’t a good idea to go for the cheapest tools.

I could have walked out of the store with one, except that every critter they had possessed a Shiny! screen. So I special-ordered one with a matte finish screen

I can’t figure out why anybody would want to spend their work time squinting past the highly reflective surface. But then I also can’t figure out why the Internet is infested with ant-track-sized text on so many sites and why the sites are designed to blow up in your face if you enlarge the print. (Don’t get me started on designing the flexibility out of web pages; you’ll be sorry as it’s quite a long and energetic rant.) My corrected vision is pretty OK — but am I really the only one around who has trouble with mirror-shade-finish screens and tiny little type?

And now… it’s arrived. I went over and picked it up and all the clerks (clerks?) gathered around and went, “Ooooh!” as it’s a pretty slick machine. (Maybe they just do that to make you feel good. It worked pretty well.)

I’m staring at it from across the desk, still working on the old machine (which was behaving remarkably well till it started with the ooooo typos a day or two ago) because the new one isn’t quite set up yet.

It’s staring back, with its easy-on-the-eyes matte screen. It has a line of mysterious icons to explore and a stack of software to install, and a cable that’s supposed to make transferring everything easy! and quick!

I’m telling myself that setting the Mac up won’t be any harder than transferring files from my old PC to a new PC.

I’m not sure I believe it, but I keep telling it to myself.

Stay tuned, same bat-time, same bat-station, and I’ll report back in a couple of weeks.

I doubt I’ll be transmuting from John Hodgman to Justin Long anytime soon, but we’ll see.

— Vonda


Superluminal, by Vonda N. McIntyre. The eBook.Books make great gifts, and Christmas is coming. eBooks make great last-minute gifts because they arrive automagically when you buy them.

Superluminal is now available at Book View Cafe. You may read it in serial form, one chapter per week, or you may buy the ebook (available in a number of formats) for $4.99.

For a limited time, if you buy the hardcover from Basement Full of Books, I’ll also give you a free copy of the ebook in the format (within reason) of your choice.

Book View Cafe is also presenting Dreamsnake in serial version for free, and as an ebook in several formats for $4.99. On December 20, BVC will present the Starfarers Quartet.

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I Think I Am John Hodgman, Part IV — 9 Comments

  1. “I can’t figure out why anybody would want to spend their work time squinting past the highly reflective surface. But then I also can’t figure out why the Internet is infested with ant-track-sized text on so many sites and why the sites are designed to blow up in your face if you enlarge the print. (Don’t get me started on designing the flexibility out of web pages; you’ll be sorry as it’s quite a long and energetic rant.) My corrected vision is pretty OK — but am I really the only one around who has trouble with mirror-shade-finish screens and tiny little type?”

    No, you’re NOT! There are several rants that could be written, probably endless, if you surf the wrong sites for usability. Amazon for example is the poster child for usability going from good to bad in its development and quest for shiny and reflective buttons, where css would suffice.

    Personally – for my reading habits and my recent eye problems – I thank God for the development of e-ink. They’re already working on a colour version.

  2. Oh, please, Vonda: rant on the flexibility of web pages! I’m far from expert, but when I learned to write html, I was taught to set font sizes in percentages, so that they would work for everyone. But this principle seems to have fallen by the wayside.

  3. I think one of the major strengths of html is its flexibility, and I hate to see that all go away with more and more design constraints.

    One reason I switched from IE to Firefox back in the olden days when Firefox was just a cub was that FF would override the designer choice of specifying fonts in pixels, which IE wouldn’t override, which meant you could not enlarge the print. Which was of course why designers used it: they wanted you to see what they designed the way they designed it, and if you couldn’t read it, tough noogies to you.

    Of course oftentimes when you just enlarge the type, the page breaks, but at least most of the time you could make out what was being said. The magnification of everything that’s now available works a bit better.

    But, you know, I don’t think it’s that hard to design a page with some flexibility in it. I was going to create a website for a friend that was for a (fictional) national park, and riffing off the standard design of real national parks, I ended up with something that you could enlarge the type quite a few steps before anything got really wonky. The real national park site broke after a step or two. (This was several years ago, before you could magnify everything.)

    The site never happened. It’s too bad; it would have been really cute, and I had permission from some good artists to use their work in it. Oh well.

    Vonda

  4. Vonda – the reason why glossy screens are ‘en vogue’ color gamuts, color matching and LED backlighting. Circa 2007 or so, a breakthrough in LCD production SIGNIFICANTLY widened the color depth that could be displayed. This was largely for HDTVs, but HDTVs and laptop screens all come from the same factories, really.

    Also in 2007 – late in 2007 – everyone started doing LED backlights, instead of compact flat flourescents. These consume less power, and have a consistent backlighting capability – there’s no variation in lighting from top to bottom. More modern ones will actually dim the backlighting behind a specific triple-color RGB pixel to give rich blacks.

    What does this have to do with Glossy Screen of Shiny?

    Like glossy paper versus matte or ragged paper, you can’t see the entire new color gamut without some reflection going on. You will (interestingly enough) also not get the ‘rich black’ effect of per-pixel LED dimming without a reflective surface.

    I can say that I hated reflective screens with a passion when I first used them; after two weeks with one, I ceased to notice – aside from the fact that I could actually use very subtle differences in CMYK values and see the differences on screen with the new monitor when I couldn’t with the old.

    (In an alternate timeline, Atari struck it big in the 1980s with their specialized computers and monitors. Atari monitors from that era didn’t do RGB colors, they did CMY-off. Which means that if they’d succeeded, color spaces for computers and print would have been identical, rather than color spaces for computers and television being identical.)

    Anyway – congratulations on the new electronic family member. You may want to look at buying a new keyboard for your old Dell, doing a clean install of XP on it from the recovery media, and donating it to a local school district or charitable organization. They are ALWAYS looking for donated computers that can run a word processor and browse the internet.

  5. Hi Ken,

    Thanks for the info — interesting about print v. tv. I suspect print would have been more useful… at least up till recently where if you have a honking fast connection you can watch tv on your computer.

    I have a machine with a reflective screen. It’s very difficult to work on. I’d hoped to use it as my away machine, but I don’t think so.

    Gosh, is the print on the Mac tiny. I got a skin for Firefox that makes the icons bigger, but what I need is for the text in the location bar and the status bar to be bigger. Particularly the status bar, which I use all the time.

    I suppose it’s hopeless to try to find something that will make the controls of Word bigger. It’s apparently a religious duty for Microsoft to make the local help files in such small (and unenlargable) print that you can barely see them, much less read them. (Yep, you can go online and get them on a browser. However, I go places where there is no wifi and my cell phone thinks it’s a rock. Online help files are not much help in those conditions.)

    So far, everything I’ve tried (and before a few days ago I didn’t even know the Mac *had* a terminal you could go under the hood with) screws up one thing or another. As a friend who told me how to go under the hood pointed out, Firefox doesn’t play nice with resolution independence.

    Unfortunately, neither does anything else. Which is too bad because scaling up the point/pixel relationship did exactly what I wanted it to, visually speaking.

    Honest to pete, my corrected vision is pretty OK. But I’m 61 and my eyes tire more easily than they did when I was a pup. Computer manufacturers and software designers ought to give some thought to the size of the Baby Boom generation.

    S/q/u/i/n/t/y/
    Vonda

  6. Vonda, my tech resources on Macs aren’t as extensive as they are for PCs.

    Can you give me the following information, here or by email?

    1) What version of MacOS are you using?
    2) What model – and screen resolution – is your new Mac?

    I know that earlier versions of MacOS X were NOT resolution independent. I’ve been told by a friend that the most recent version is.

    With that information I can do a bit more digging for you if you’d like.

  7. Hi Ken,

    Thanks for the info — interesting about print v. tv. I suspect print would have been more useful… at least up till recently where if you have a honking fast connection you can watch tv on your computer.

    Had computer monitors gone to CMYK in the ’80s, by the time digital television had come around, TV might well have switched, because that’s what LCDs were built for. CMYK is a richer color space than RGB, even with RGB gamuts getting richer over time, they’re still just now getting to 70% of the number of colors that CMYK can do.

    If you’ve ever looked at television filmed in the ’80s, and then television filmed in the ’70s, and then television filmed in the ’60s, you’re seeing evidence of the color gamut widening.

  8. Hi Ken,

    Weirdly enough, I remember our first color tv as having absolutely brilliant color. That must have been just the perceptual difference between B&W and color, because a lot of NBC’s current advertising includes their first peacock, and as you say the colors are fair to middling dull.

    That was about 1959 — my dad was an electrical engineer, worked for General Electric, got some big employee discount on stuff like tvs.

    Ten years before that, he built our first tv. It looked like a 1940s console radio, about the size of a washing machine, with a tiny little circule screen. (Maybe 8″ across?)

    Pretty magical for the time.

    It moved from Massachusetts to New York State to Maryland with us, but when we moved to the Netherlands in 1960, it stayed behind; we left it with the neighbors’ kids, and it still worked.

    I have no idea what my folks did with the color tv; we didn’t have a tv in the Netherlands, which is kind of too bad as it might have helped in learning Dutch.

    Well, that anecdote had nothing much to do with color space!

    Vonda

  9. Hi Ken,

    I don’t mean to be making you do research for me; that said, I’d be glad of your comments.

    It’s a 17″ Macbook Pro 5.2, screen resolution 1920×1200, OS X (v. 10.6.2).

    I tried changing the screen resolution, but it did what every laptop I’ve ever had did when I tried to do that — it whined piteously at me and the displays were gorked in various ways. For example: boxes meant to fit on the screen drop off the bottom of the screen with no way to scroll down or move them or get to the “update” or whatever buttons at the bottom of the box.

    I tried changing the pixel-to-point resolution with several different factors, and had great hopes for that because it did exactly what I wanted it to in terms of making tiny print a readable size.

    Except that two of the main programs I want to use (Firefox and Word) don’t play well with that solution.

    FF, for example, gives a really erratic and sometimes smeary display, and the drop-down menus of (for example) http://www.bookviewcafe.com stopped dropping down.

    Word did all sorts of weird stuff… including crashing.

    Camino, which was supposed to play better with the change, froze the first two times I loaded it.

    I didn’t even particularly test other programs to see if those would work with the change. If I can’t use a browser I like and I can’t use Word (which is about as bad as you can get in terms of tiny little print for the instructions and toolbars — if the print were any smaller it would be invisible), the technique is useless to me.

    Vonda