Well, as back as I ever am these days.
It’s been a busy few weeks, and I just had to let something go. Can’t skip out on work or the cats will start supplementing their diets by nibbling on my extremities. Can’t avoid doing the taxes; the less said about that non-option, the better. And there was other stuff I’m not ready to talk about that also couldn’t wait.
And then there was the other stuff. Stuff I wanted to do, sure, but it took time and attention.
We bought a new mattress, for instance. Our old one was old. As Maggie put it, “old enough to vote, maybe even old enough to drink”. Not that it ever registered to vote (or if it did, we never saw a ballot come in the mail), nor did we ever catch it getting shit-faced in front of the TV*. Mattress shopping in a “post”-COVID environment is nerve-wracking–“who’s been sprawled on this test mattress before me” isn’t a question you want to be asking yourself every five minutes–but I have to say that it was worth it. My back hurts much less now than it did in the days before twelve inches of memory foam entered our lives. And when it comes to nigh-indescribable joy, there isn’t much that can top being able to slide out of bed without springs creaking and the whole mattress shifting when one of us needs to answer a late-night/early morning phone call from Mother Nature.
* Yes, we do have a TV in the bedroom. Doesn’t everyone? I mean, it’s the most comfortable place to kick back and watch hours of programming–as long as your mattress isn’t belching stale beer scent in your face.
The real biggie, though–the thing that has monopolized my so-called free time for the past couple of weeks–is a new computer.
Long-time readers may recall that when I started this blog a decade ago(!), I was primarily a Linux user. If I needed Windows for something, I’d either fire up a virtual machine or one of the far too many older machines piled in my office. Before that, I’d bounced from Atari to DOS to early Windows, early Mac, early Linux, back to Windows, back to Linux, and around and around I goes, and where I stops, well, you get the idea.
Over the past few years–since Microsoft introduced WSL (essentially, Linux running inside of Windows), I’ve been moving more and more to Windows Land. Most things I wanted to do were just as easy in Windows 10 as Linux, and for the few that weren’t, WSL has served admirably.
It was time for a change. I’ve been tied to a desktop with my last couple of “main machines”, but I wanted to return to a more portable system. It was a pain in the neck to move my email over to the loyal Surface Go when I needed to be out and about. And to be blunt, the Surface Go’s keyboard really wasn’t suitable for extended typing. A blog post, maybe. A novel, nope.
So I started looking at laptops. And I was seduced.
As of a couple of weeks ago, I’ve once again become an Apple user. Specifically, I found a very good deal on a lightly used MacBook Air–so lightly used that the Apple logo stickers were still in the box. Yes, the new one with an M2. In that lovely Midnight* color. With 8 gigs of RAM and 512 of storage.
* Mind you, it’s not the color I associate with the middle of the night; it’s not nearly dark enough for that. But then, Apple is the company that can declare pink to be “Rose Gold” and have the entire world agree with them, so if they want to call charcoal gray “Midnight”, I’m hardly in a position to dispute the matter.
And, yes, most of the software I need is just as available in Appleville as in Windows Land or Linuxton. Not surprising, that latter: MacOS is, after all, also a UNIX-variant. Call it a second cousin once removed to Linux.
I had the Mac about 90% set up the way I wanted it within two days. Microsoft Office downloaded from the Apple App Store and activated flawlessly when I signed in. Web browsers installed easily and synchronized their settings with the Windows versions. Migrating my email took less than half an hour. Most of the rest of those two days was taken up with finding replacements for smaller programs (a music tag editor, an image viewer that wouldn’t try to take over my entire picture library,…) and tweaking a few tiny Linux command line programs I’d written to run in the Mac’s Terminal*.
* Did you know every Mac has an easily accessible command line? It does, and it works almost identically with it’s Linux brethren. A victory for those of us who would rather type “for i in * ; do [something] ; done” than use mouse clicks to select a bunch of files and do [something] to each one, one at a time.
I can’t work without my dual-monitor setup: one big one for whatever I’m actively doing and a smaller one off to the side to hold my email so I can just glance over at it from time to time. The Air officially only supports one external display. Enter a hub that uses some sweet software trickery to support a second external screen. Works like magic. So now I have to figure out what I’m going to put on the third screen–the one built into the MacBook.
You want to hear something funny? The one thing that took the longest and threatened to entirely derail my Macgration was this blog. Seriously.
This blog runs on a platform called WordPress. About two years ago, WordPress made a major change to the software’s built-in editor. I won’t bore you with the details, but the result of the change was that I could no longer write my posts offline in whatever tool I wanted to use, save it on my own hard drive, and then copy it up to the blog. I had to use their new editor, which I found totally incomprehensible and which didn’t (and still doesn’t) allow for a local save. I nearly gave up the blog. And then I discovered that there was a way to hook Word into WordPress.
It’s true: the day was, in actual fact, saved by Microsoft.
Guess what doesn’t work in the Macintosh version of Word. Again, to avoid boring you, I won’t go into the reasons why it doesn’t work. Nor will I go through all the gyrations I went through trying to either make it work or find an acceptable replacement.
Long story short, remember what I said up above about using a virtual machine on Linux to run the occasional Windows program I couldn’t do without? I’m doing that again.
A small (30GB or so) chunk of the hard drive holds a Windows virtual machine with nothing but Microsoft Office installed. Word is hooked into WordPress* and I’m able to write my posts, save them on my computer, and hit the Publish button, just like before.
Once again, the day is saved by Microsoft.
I mentioned up above that the new machine has 8GB of memory. I was worried that wouldn’t be enough, but you know what? It seems to be plenty. As I write this, I’ve got the Windows virtual machine going, a video playing for background noise, four web browsers open to various pages I’ve been consulting, my email, two Terminal sessions doing things via remote connections to my Windows and Linux machines, and about half a dozen utility programs doing things like monitoring my available memory.
It’s all running smoothly. If the computer is swapping programs in and out of working memory, it’s doing it so smoothly and quietly that I can’t see it happening. No audio or video skips, no hesitation switching over to the email or toggling from one browser to another.
Let me close here with a couple of quotes from old blog posts:
There’s been a longstanding perception that Apple computers feel slow … No matter how fast the computer is getting work done, the user interface has often felt sluggish … I can’t imagine an M1 Ultra machine feeling sluggish.
I can’t speak for the M1 Ultra, but boy-howdy does this M2 feel the exact antithesis of sluggish.
There’s a notch at the top of the display for the camera … I kind of like the idea. Gives more physical space for the screen, and if you’ve got so much stuff in your Menu Bar that it runs into the notch, you probably ought to slim things down a bit anyway.
At the moment, I count 18 things in my Menu Bar, including the clock. Works just fine on the big monitor, where there’s no notch. Over on the built-in screen, though, only the clock and 12 icons are visible. Picture me blushing. I’ve at least arranged them so the ones that get hidden are the ones I’m least likely to need. Nobody really uses their Dropbox and OneDrive Menu Bar icons, right?
But with the exception of the shared photos mess, I’m genuinely impressed with what’s coming. Maybe not quite enough to buy a Mac, and definitely not enough to replace my Pixel phone with an iPhone.
I’m still not anywhere within seventeen million parsecs of getting an iPhone.
“Macgration.” Good one!