Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Great Eucatastrophe

Our long journey together has led us to this day. The hope that's carried us through the joys and the hardships has culminated in this day and all that it will bring: a breaking of the past, a look toward the future, and unlimited possibilities.

According to Appendix B in The Return of the King, on March 25th, 3019 of the Third Age, the Ring of Power was destroyed, the Tower of Barad-dur crumbled, and Sauron passed from Middle Earth. The Captains of the West, fearing utter defeat from enemies far beyond their number, were instead victorious, and the King himself passed beyond the gates of Mordor in triumph.

This event is the great eucatastrophe in The Lord of the Rings novels – the greatest, in fact, though there are many others: the close encounter on Amun Sul and safe crossing of the Bruinen, the Ents march of war upon Isengard, the Rohirrim’s arrival on the fields of the Pellenor, etc., etc., etc. The word 'eucatastrophe' is a word coined by J.R.R. Tolkien, which he strongly felt needed to exist in order to explain some of life's greatest moments. There is, of course, this term 'catastrophe', which we use to describe when things turn suddenly from good to bad. But, we don't seem to have a term for the opposite. In other words, when the world looks bleak and all hope fails, there occasionally comes a great change for Good. We often have felt these moments throughout our lives (whether we acknowledged them at the time or in hindsight) and we need a word to describe these experiences. So, Tolkien added the Greek “eu”, meaning “good” or “pleasing”, to ‘catastrophe’ to create ‘eucatastrophe’ – a sudden change for the good.

For Tolkien, the great eucatastrophe in human history was the Incarnation: the idea that in the midst of insurmountable pain, suffering, and little hope, the God of the universe put on flesh and blood to set things right. (This was part of the argument that swayed C.S. Lewis on their famous Addison walk). The Incarnation of God in human form through Jesus Christ changes everything in history, and is exactly the kind of thing we hope for and experience on a smaller scale every day.

Many remember and acknowledge the Incarnation in December, when the birth of Christ is celebrated. But this is in error, for the Incarnation, when God became flesh, actually takes place at the Annunciation, the time at which an angel brings news to Mary that she is with child. Though Christ would not be born for nine months, the process had started at that moment, and hope was rekindled for all; God had arrived in our world. When the world looked bleakest and all hope had failed, there was a great change for Good.

A strong Roman Catholic, it should be no surprise that when he began writing of another world, Tolkien wove this consistent theme of eucatastrophe into its histories and characters. And, while he despised allegory, it is no accident or coincidence that he chose March 25th for the victory over darkness and despair in Middle Earth. For on March 25th in the Christian calendar, as tradition has held for millennia, we celebrate the Annunciation (and therefore Incarnation) of Christ.

Tolkien includes this date in the history of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings at least three times, and on each occasion he hints at its huge, life-changing significance. As we read in the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings, it was on March 25th that Gandalf met Thorin Oakenshield in Bree in 2941 and convinced him to return to the Lonely Mountain. It bears repeating here:

"Yet things might have gone far otherwise and far worse. When you think of the great Battle of the Pellenor, do not forget the battles in Dale and the valour of Durin's Folk. Think of what might have been. Dragon-fire and savage swords in Eriador, night in Rivendell. There might be no queen in Gondor. We might now hope to return from the victory here only to ruin and ash. But that has been averted - because I met Thorin Oakenshield one evening on the edge of spring in Bree. A chance-meeting, as we say in Middle-earth."
~The Return of the King, Appendix A

A "chance-meeting" indeed. This is a pivotal, eucatastrophic event in the history of Middle Earth. As this passage shows, this meeting greatly impacts the events that take place in the War of the Ring decades later, which also culminates on the 25th of March. It is not enough that the Ring of Power is destroyed on this day in 3019, but the armies surrounding the Host of the West flea in fear as well, and the great and terrible tower of Barad-Dur falls into utter ruin. Evil everywhere, it seems, is dealt a severe blow. The third great and concluding eucatastrophe takes place just two years after the Ring's destruction, on March 25, 3021, with the birth of Elanor, first daughter of Samwise. Elanor is beautiful and fair, and the future and lasting legacy of Samwise and, by extension, Frodo and Bilbo. All three of these events taking place on March 25th are consistent with the themes of the Annunciation and Incarnation: redemption, hope, and birth. It was a long journey for Gandalf, Aragorn, and Frodo, as it was for Abraham, Isaiah, and Malachi... and a long journey for us, too.

It is said that the people of Gondor, from that day when the Ring was destroyed, always celebrated the New Year on March 25th. Throughout history they would be in good company, as it would also be celebrated on that day by the Saxons, Romans, and yes, various groups of Christians in their acknowledgment that the Annunciation and Incarnation were the beginning of a New Age. Like the people of Gondor, we can celebrate - today and every day - a new year and a new age as we recall that we are given hope, freedom, and rebirth through Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Book Review: Planet Narnia

"In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas."

"Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of."

(The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 14)

There was this one time in high school where me and some friends were in the car headed out somewhere, and "Higher", by Creed, came on the radio.

Can you take me higher?
To the place where blind men see
Can you take me higher?
To the place with golden streets


My one friend Brett and I immediately started talking about how "solid" it was. This one girl turned around, though, and matter-of-factly said, "What's so solid about it? It's the same four measures over and over again: it's completely unoriginal and boring. There it is again! What's so special about it? What makes it so good to you?"

Brett and I just kind of stared at each other for a minute, and then started into this explanation of the great meaning and poetry of the lyrics and how they reached a good peak just when the music did, and all this other stuff... but this girl wasn't really buying it. She was really into music and couldn't see how, musically, it was anything more than just a banal pop song. To Brett and I, there was a whole world of meaning in that little song, but it didn't excite her in the least. She didn't see it.

There is often quite a difference between what something is composed of and the feeling it evokes. To use a cliché: an object is more than just the sum of its parts. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the third book in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia), the character Eustace is corrected on this topic. He was incorrectly associating identity and meaning with composition. Before he was gently rebuked, I don't think he would've liked "Higher" either.

I read the Chronicles of Narnia a lot when I was a kid, and I've enjoyed reading them even more as an adult. As an adult, I pick up on a lot more of the imagery, Biblical references, etc. that I missed as a child. I got the "don't be a traitor, be nice to your siblings, honesty is good" themes as a kid, but even now when I know these things I still feel a great sense of something as I read them: something that's more than just what's written there on the page, a sort of magnanimity that transcends merely the plot of the stories. But, to be honest, as many times as I read the books I still felt that they were pretty random at times. I mean, they're kind of fanciful, but it just seems like a hodgepodge of different myths and other elements, and there isn't always good resolution. And, they were popular: why stop at seven? Lewis could've continued on and given us more stories about The Golden Age of Narnia, or the beginnings of Narnia, or gosh, answering all the open-ended stories he has in there (how many times does he cop-out with a 'this isn't his story' kind of thing? A lot. C'mon, I want to know the backstory stories.)

Enter to this confusion Planet Narnia, a book released last year by scholar Michael Ward. It reads not as a book so much as an exhaustively researched thesis or dissertation, because that's what it started out as. In essence, the premise is this: the randomness that you sense when reading the Chronicles? It's not random. The hodgepodge of different myths floating in and out? Not a hodgepodge. Why seven? You'll find out. ;-) All of these questions can be answered when reading the Chronicles through a particular lens: one that is able to add to and enhance their reading. Ward admits that he's found no secret document, no hidden letter of Lewis' that had his intentions for the Narniad scribbled on them or anything - nothing like that. Instead, Ward is claiming that if you look at Lewis' entire corpus of work, especially his non-fiction Medieval books, his poems, and the Cosmic Trilogy, there are themes contained in them which appear even stronger in the Chronicles of Narnia.

I read the book a year ago and meant to put up a review then. As you can tell, I never got around to it. But, I've re-read some of the Narnia books recently and so have been thinking about it more lately. Make no mistake: it's a heady work. But, it's a must-read for anyone who's experienced inexpressible emotions when reading the Chronicles. It's so well-researched and convincing, it's not merely an approach to enjoying the books, it should be the approach to fully enjoying the books.

If you enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia because of what they say about certain virtues, or certain theologies, or anything else- if you're concerned, in other words, with what's just on the pages of the books, you should probably not read Planet Narnia. It will either go over your head, or at the very least will expose you to things that you'll wish you'd never heard of before you read it. Keep reading them on the surface for merely what they're composed of, and you'll remain content.

If, however, you enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia because of how they make you feel, you have to read this book. If you've felt something satisfying in your spirit as you've read the books, you may want to know why, and this book will help with that. I have a feeling you'll read it, read the Chronicles again, and think: "Solid!"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Free Advice #1

I know I should charge for it, but what the heck - here's some free advice to anyone who may be working on a screenplay adaptation of C.S. Lewis' A Horse And His Boy:

Please, oh please, start the movie during the "race" where Bree & Shasta meet Hwin & Aravis.

It doesn't seem obvious, I know, but hear me out:
  • It gets the action going right away, with someone riding on a talking horse that's being chased by lions. Everything gets explained in short order to the audience.
  • It dispenses with problems associated with time - Bree & Shasta were supposedly traveling for weeks before this occurred.
  • It allows you to hear the backstory from the main character's mouths - Aravis tells their story (with Hwin interrupting) and Bree tells their story (with Shasta interrupting) in a more concise & direct (though still poetic) manner. In short, character development is so much easier.
  • It wouldn't drag down the whole movie. That could take all of 20 minutes, and then you've still got plenty of time for all of Tashbaan, the ride north, the hermit, the trip to Narnia, and the battle at Anvard. If you were start linearly and track the story from the beginning, it would take forever. Or, in an effort to be shorter, would be made more terrible (for how to make an adaptation terrible, please see Prince Caspian. Actually, don't torture yourself like that).

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Even though I've written of it before, and in spite of me going through it many times and it already being a week after I've left, I'm still at a loss as to how to properly end the summer and my experience at Casowasco. Most have already moved on, I know, but as I've unpacked physically, I still feel the need to unpack emotionally. Frankly, I'm unsure of how to do that. In The Return of the King, Frodo feels a similar sentiment:

"How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand - there is no going back."

I realize that I'm probably the only one left dealing with it: the old fogey who doesn't have anything better to do than sit around and mourn the summer. Judging from Facebook statuses, that feels true. For several days, I just sat and looked at my bags and piles of papers and clothes, knowing that they needed to go back where they belonged, but not wanting to put them there. Most, I know, have rushed on to unpacking and repacking for college, moving in, and picking up jobs and friendships right where they left off in June.

And I can't help feeling as though that's a mistake, somehow. I feel like we don't have enough time to ponder and reflect as we ought to have, and that we're at a loss whenever we go through an experience and don't unpack it. I understand, appreciate, and agree with the sentiment that we should live in "today" and not dwell in the past; I get that. But I still long for a way to feel more closure with the summer camping experience.

I'm well aware that this is mainly a personal problem. I'm conscious enough of my surroundings to appreciate that most of my colleagues are grateful for a return to "normalcy", and are excited to be back in the swing of things wherever they are. And, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't partially as well.

But, I also know that camp is a transformative experience: we work and live together, cry and celebrate together, worship and grow together. Because of this, we cannot so easily detach from our "summer job" like our friends can; it's just not like that. It's deeper, it's more meaningful, it involves deep friendships and personal growth. It was life-changing.

So I guess I just wanted to take a few minutes and mentally unpack. Moving on is necessary and important - I guess I just hope that we all still take the time to appreciate what we've been through, acknowledge the changes that have happened within us, and allow God to lead us forward.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Review: MacBook (white) 13-inch, Early 2009


Well, the MacBook came earlier than expected (last Monday afternoon instead of "Wednesday by 12pm"), and so I've been using it bit-by-bit since then. As you might expect, there's been both joys and frustrations along the way.

And I think that that's important to keep in mind: both joys and frustrations are to be expected with any sort of move to something unfamiliar - there will be some things that will be nicer, some things that won't be, and other things that just work differently. These are the things that make you to pause and think, "Well, that's stupid.", when in fact it's not stupid, it's just different. ::shrug::

I've encountered several of these so far, as you'll find below in this exhaustive review (well, you'll be exhausted when you finish it, that is). Please feel free to read it in chunks, if you're not up for a half-an-hour reading fest at the moment. So, gather round people, wherever you roam. Grab a chilled IBC (or, preferably, Ithaca brand) root beer, and ye shall hear of my tales of woe and elation. Yes, the times, they are a changin'.


Before we get to the real deal, though (and I promise that this will come up for other reasons shortly), let's talk shipping. We ordered the computer in the late afternoon (EST) of a Wednesday and it arrived, FROM CHINA, on Monday morning. And, to be fair, it made it to the destination city early that morning. I think that's amazingly impressive. In loosely the same vein as a recent internet go-around, it used to take a year for people to go to China and back, and it usually involved people dying. So, let's give a shoutout to the Apple employees in Shanghai, as well as to the good people at FedEx. ::claps::

After receiving an e-mail informing me of its arrival, I went to pick it up and bring it home.


The shipping box is slightly smaller than the box my current computer came in when I bought it in a retail store. Surprising, but not monumentally so.

Opening up the shipping box, you see that the retail box is significantly smaller.

It's really a pretty ingenious way to ship a product like a computer. You could dent that shipping box significantly, without any harm coming to the retail box, let alone the computer itself. The triangular, cardboard box holders are really durable. They're a kind of cardboard/pressed board that you don't often see- just very dense and not cheap-feeling. I might use them for something else: they're that good.

Some size comparisons for you:

Moving on to the retail box itself, we see some tape on the outside of the box. It's really sticky. It's also got that "strong packing-tape glue" smell. Eventually it comes off, and the top unfolds like a pizza box.

I think I should mention here that I've looked at a lot of "unboxing" stuff online, so none of this was really news to me. But, I had really enjoyed the experience of unwrapping my iPod shuffle (1G), and knew that this would probably be similar. I might as well get it out of the way now: Apple provid
es, hands down, the best consumer product unwrapping experience, ever. Everything is made so that the consumer feels like they're valued, and that they bought some thing of value.

And so, we are met with the little (ostentatious, some might say. Not me, though) cardboard flap that proudly proclaims that this product was "Designed by Apple in California". That's just cool. I'm sure it meant a lot more when Apple started out and it really was a strange thing for a computer company to design and manufacture its computers in California, but I think it's still cool.

Little touches like that are all around: the packaging is simple, but secure. There's a nice quality black foam attached to the lid of the box that secures the laptop in the packaging, and even that is very aesthetically-pleasing. In contrast, I believe that my HP laptop came with some big blocks of Styrofoam and brown cardboard boxes.

Moving right along, we'll set the laptop aside for a moment while we investigate what's underneath.

Let's see, we've got a black cardboard pouch, and underneath that… a little white bag filled with what I'm assuming is the accessories I ordered: an Apple remote and a mini-DVI to DVI display adapter.

Accessories being included in the retail box was very surprising. I had expected them to be thrown in the shipping box, in their own individual baggies. But no - they were included in the retail box, in the same little bag. I think we can conclude a few things from this about the way Apple ships out its products and keeps an efficient inventory. The odds that Apple has a bunch of different baggies filled with a number of combinations of adapters and accessories has to be slim to none, and so the logical conclusion is that this was all done at the factory, a short 6 days ago. The factory's shipping area must just have a huge number of bins filled with computers, accessories, and boxes, and they put them all together as the orders come in. So, when Chen Jie saw my order, she got a remote and display adapter, sealed them in a bag, got a retail box to put them in, put in the black pouch and power adapters, placed the laptop in, and then closed the box and put tape on it, all in a matter of probably 15 minutes. It may seem like I'm blowing this out of proportion, and maybe I am, but this really impresses me. It just seems like such a contrast to my last buying experience, where I went to CompUSA, bought the advertised computer, and picked it up in a few days in an ugly brown cardboard box, with bits of styrofoam flecks on the computer and the accessories thrown in without care. Apple obviously has got things down to a science in their processing, and it feels personal. You could almost imagine the shipping person stuffing in a Polaroid of themselves or something in your box, and it wouldn't seem out of place for Apple.

In the black cardboard pouch, we find 3 things - two sides labeled "Everything Mac" and "Everything Else", and a black something underneath those two. Interestingly enough, the "Everything Mac" and "Everything Else" packets are two different shades of white. I'm not usually someone who'd notice that kind of stuff, but I did, so that should tell you something about how distinct they are. I later realized that it's probably because the "Everything Else" was a glossy disc pouch, whereas the "Everything Mac" was actually the matte paper user's manual. ::shrug:: Who knew?


In the "Everything Else" pouch we have a OS installation disc, an applications disc, and... stickers! It doesn't matter how old you are, stickers = cool. The problem as an adult, though, is where to put stickers: there's only so many surfaces I have that a) are going to be around for a while, and b) I want to use to promote a company. On the other hand, stickers help give a sense of ownership: it's all part of the experience. I didn't get any HP stickers with my last computer.

The black something underneath the manual and "Everything Else" pouch is wrapped in shininess. What is it, though? A cleaning cloth, maybe? If so, kudos to Apple. My HP screen gets quite dusty and dirty, and I seldom clean it because I don't have a cloth or similar object, and I've been too lazy to get one (or get monitor wipes). The question I had at this point was, "What about Applecare?" Didn't you used to get a CD with Applecare stuff on it? Maybe they just have a record of it? I guess I'll find out. (Update: it was all done online at the time of purchase.)

What to do now: read the manual, or unwrap the actual notebook?

I read the manual first. I wasn't sure if I had to charge the battery for a certain period of time before I used it or not (I did with my HP), and so I thought I should better find that out first. After I realized that it needed no charging, I turned my attention to the laptop itself. It was covered in a sort of foam paper, similar to the stuff that's wrapped around you at a dentist's office, but much nicer. There was a seal on the back discussing the software agreement and acknowledging that you agreed to it, which I thought was smart, because it was made of really thin paper and was impossible to open the laptop without ripping the paper. Maybe it's meant to be one more reminder that you shouldn't pirate or hack their software. Clever.


The first thing that strikes you about the MacBook is its size: it's tiny, especially in comparison to my HP. To be honest, the size of my laptop never bothered me much. It's got a 15.4" display, is about the size of a 3 ring binder when closed (~2" thick), and weighs about 8 pounds. As such, toting it around wasn't that much of a problem; one-handed use was a bit onerous, but not impossible. When I got it, I wanted a large-ish screen, because it's all I use for watching movies & TV too. But, for church use, I didn't mind the 13" of the new MacBook. And so, even though I was used to this 15.4", 8 pound trooper, it's hard to not rename him in his retirement as "Mr. Chunky".




Yeah, it's a pretty huge difference. It's like the size delta between Duplo and Lego. I know that this isn't even a unibody construction like the newer Aluminum MacBooks, but... but wow. It's sort of heavy, but not heavy heavy... more dense than heavy. It's so well put together, so thin! As a point of reference, I had to take apart my HP to install the new fan back in January, and I got a really good look at its insides. Now, I haven't taken the MacBook apart or anything, but I've seen enough other people online do it that I know there's not much in there besides the essential components. The design differences are staggering. I guess you could say it's like the structural difference between an ant or a beetle and a human. The HP has this superstructure that all the components are fit into: there's braces and brackets and all sorts of junk. But the MacBook, it's just got this really tough exterior shell, you see.

::shrug:: Anyway.

The power adapter is also pretty small, especially in comparison to the HP's, which is not at all surprising considering its maximum draw is also half of the HP's: 60W vs. 120W. Yeah, I don't know if you've heard, but processors have made leaps and bounds in the last few years in terms of energy efficiency. The cords (especially the longer one) have a nice feel to them, and they wrap easily. The little fold-out prongs for wrapping the cord around the adapter are really helpful.

There was a nice foam sheet between the keyboard and display, which I had gotten on my HP too. The foam seemed nicer, but, ::shrug::... maybe it's just my imagination. I could ask my mom, though, since she kept the one from her HP laptop and always puts it back when she puts it away. ::minor eye-rolling::

The screen is glossy, of course. So is my HP's. They were just starting to become the rage about three years ago when I got it, and I haven't minded it too terribly.

I didn't check it out for the first few days, but I really enjoy the battery indicator on the bottom of the machine, too. It's a random thing, really, but I guess it's nice to know the battery level without having to turn the machine on.


After the startup chime, Mac OS 10.5 ("Leopard") booted up and began the introductory set-up stuff. I ran to do something else quick, and when I came back there was a menu that asked me to choose a language. I had been away for a moment and hadn't touched the keys, and so it spoke to me! It said "Choose a language" or something, and I found that amusing and smart.

Then came the Leopard welcome video. Does it add anything to the experience? No, but it's just fun.

Then I was asked to register the product with Apple. Ugh. I hate registering for things like this. I'm always confused by them, because I'm not entirely sure what the information is used for. I also don't usually know how to change the information once it's done, and so I usually ignore it. I mean, do I put in the church's info, or mine? Does it matter? I think it'd be helpful if Apple (and everyone else) explained what the point of the Product Registration was.

Then I had to choose an account name. This seemed easy, until I noticed that it asked for a "name" and a "short name". Uh... huh? What's the difference? Why do I need to specify them? Are they case sensitive? Apparently so, since I used my name in both, the only difference between the capitalization of "K".

Then it gives you an opportunity to take a picture or video of yourself for your user account, via the integrated webcam. I didn't use it, because I don't generally like pictures of myself. But I thought it was pretty neat, and added a nice personal touch. In the age of online avatars and Facebook profile pictures, I think most people would appreciate this, though.

Oh, and there was also a bunch of questions about migrating data from another Mac and Time Machine (automated backup software), but I ignored those.

It logged me in automatically and so there I was, staring at the screen of my new Mac with nothing really in mind to do with it. Hmmm... Bluetooth was on automatically, so I thought I'd see how easy it was to transfer files from my Bluetooth-equipped phone. So I activated it on my phone and, voila! With a few clicks on each end, I was viewing the files from my phone on my computer. Wow. I had thought about buying a Bluetooth adapter for my HP for this, but it's just nice that it's integrated here.

I'm still a little befuddled as to what I should do. Hmm... How about Dashboard?

I set the clock widget to Eastern Standard time (which I realized afterward wasn't set by the system clock, so I had to change that in the System Preferences as well)

The Weather widget wouldn't correctly identify the city I input, which was strange: "No cities found." What? Not even by zip code?! The Yahoo Weather widget that I use on my PC does it, why can't you? ::minor sigh::

The Internet seems much slower compared to my HP: Facebook is taking FOREVER to load. I realize this is Safari 3 and not the Safari 4 beta, and I also just opened "Software Update", so maybe that's slowing the network down, but still…

While Software Update is busy looking for updates, I decide to check out the System Preferences. The trackpad seems slow, so I quickly scan and go into the Keyboard & Mouse settings. Wait a minute… it just has stuff about keyboards, there's nothing about a mouse! Going back to System Preferences main menu… ahhh, there's a separate preference for trackpad. Gotcha, I'm stupid. I just didn't see it at first glance.

Okay, there's tons of updates ready for the machine. Ugh. I start downloading them and since I don't know what else to do, I play a game of Chess to pass the time.

The trackpad seems a bit weird, too: even when the speed's amped all the way up, it seems slow compared to what I'm used to. It might just take getting used to a different surface and the pressure/etc. I have to use on it.

The contrast and color of the display seems off compared to my HP, a little "washed out" you might say. This is a little annoying because I know that my HP is washed out too, I just never knew how to get it really accurate. (Update: after a couple days I downloaded another color profile, and it seems much better. The contrasts and colors seem much more rich.)

While I was waiting for the Software Updates, I decided to start getting down to work. First, I needed to copy files onto my external HD to transfer them over to the Mac. So, that took quite a long time (transferring, oh, 4GB or so). While that was happening, I decided to check out some more widgets. I'd been using Yahoo! Widgets (née Konfabulator) on my HP for a couple years or so, and I generally like it. I've only got about four or five widgets, but it's nice to see some of that information at-a-glance. Those widgets, of course, live on the desktop, and not in their own visual layer like on Mac OS X. I'm not particularly attached to either format, but what does bother me about the Mac OS X iteration is that there's always a delay in the widgets "refreshing" themselves. Why does the calendar widget need to refresh at all? And the calculator? It's mildly irritating that there's always a stutter when you open Dashboard.

I also checked out the Apple remote. I explored a bit of Front Row, but of course I don't have any media there yet so it's kind of useless. Wait, what's the "sources" menu? ….ah, it's found my iTunes shared folder from my HP. Awesome. Let's see, I just put in the passcode with the remote (wait, maybe I could've used the keyboard? ::slaps forehead:: duh! Update: no, you can't. As soon as you type on the keyboard, it shuts Front Row) and… boom! Well,… not really. It's still loading it, after a few minutes. I mean, I've got a few thousand songs shared, so that might be the problem. Or, it might be that the HP's too busy sending files to the external hard drive to notice that it's supposed to be doing something else too, which is not outside the realm of possibility. Or, come to think about it, the network might be a little busy fetching all those software updates. Right.

Speaking of which, let's check out how Software Update's doing. ::sigh:: It's hung on the Airport update… I waited for over ten minutes for it to go from 1.7MB to 1.8MB, and it never got there. So, I stopped the download. ::sigh:: This is discouraging.

Apparently, Front Row isn't able to load my music, either. This is weird. I don't understand, I've shared my iTunes library multiple times, and never had a problem before. Ugh. Another unfortunate thing: overall, the MacBook seems sluggish :-/ It's mostly Front row, I guess, but still: it's got TWO processing cores of much more efficiency than my AMD Athlon-64, much better graphics, etc... what's the hold-up? It's not just Front Row - file browsing seems that way too. I'm not quite sure why… I suppose that maybe it's the trackpad that's still throwing me off. I.e., scrolling doesn't seem as responsive because I'm not scrolling in the "right" way. I do love the two-fingered scrolling, though.

Question about file organization that might drive me insane: is it possible to organize files by type in list view, or can it only be alphabetical? If not, that is a huge bummer. (Update: found out how to do that).

I started messing around with System Preferences again, and Software Update stalled again. Starting for the 3rd time.

I thought I'd try a DVD, so I started to put the DVD in the drive, but it didn't get "slurped" in: I had to basically shove it in. That's unexpected and slightly scary. :-/ I put in a Simpsons DVD, and immediately get prompted to input the region coding. What?! It's not formatted for Region 1 to begin with? Ah, it's set for China (region 5). Hmm... I guess that's to be expected since it was, you know, built there. I honestly don't recall if I had to input a region when I first watched a DVD on my HP. So, I started to watch an episode of The Simpsons. To be honest, I've really been spoiled with these HP speakers. The MacBook's aren't terrible, I've certainly heard worse, but the HP's are definitely superior - better midtones and bass. The MacBook's sound is thinner and lacking overall robustness. Having the remote is pretty nice, though, definitely.

I have a copy of Microsoft Office v. X (2001) that I planned on using with this. It'll be interesting to see what kind of performance hit there is, since it wasn't build for Intel chips. I guess I don't expect it to be a hassle or unusable, but I guess we'll see.


Oh, and the Office installation failed, because apparently it's just an "upgrade" version, not the full version (only one line in small print on the box). Suck. I'll have to copy the folder over from the iMac G4, I guess. ::another sigh::

Software Update hung again. :-/ And again. And again. I really wanted to CTRL+ALT+DEL or something, which seems sad. I "Force[d] Quit" a lot of times, but am really confused as to what the deal is. The iStatPro widget shows a certain healthy internet traffic, then after a while it goes down to 0kb/s, for no apparent reason. I watched this happen multiple times.

Some positive news: the thing is virtually silent, I only hear the hard drive a tiny bit at heavy disk access, and the optical drive is pretty loud when you insert a disc, and then silent when it's playing. The sound of the DVD drive starting is unnerving at first: the consolation is that Apple has this place I found on their website where they have common sounds related to your optical drive, to comfort you if you think yours is malfunctioning. Classy.

I really like the keyboard. I know some people have complained about it, but I think it's really solid-feeling. My HP's is pretty nice, with not much give at all, but I've certainly met my fair share of really crappy laptop keyboards as well. The MacBook's is probably the best I've ever used.

After a while of using it, I really started to notice the sharp edges of the case. If you'll notice from the above pictures, the HP that I'm used to has curved speaker grilles on the front, so it's a natural and comfortable place to rest my wrists/arms while I type. Doing this on the MacBook results in red lines after a while, because the edge is so sharp. It's not huge deal, though: as I used it over the next several days, I learned to support my arms differently. It's probably more ergonomic that way too, I would suspect.

A niggle about volume buttons along the top of the keyboard: I keep hitting the wrong ones. I'm not sure if it's the line-art labels (why not a circle with a strikethrough for "mute"?), or if it's the order that I'm used to, but I keep hitting "Mute" when I mean to hit "Decrease". On the HP, the shortcut controls are in the decrease/increase/IR receiver/mute order. I'm used to this, and am also partial to it because it separates the least likely function from the more likely functions. Apple's layout makes logical sense (none/some/more), but I'm feeling right now that the more common sense approach is to have the mute button separated from the other two, since it's not used as often. I'm sure I'll get used to it, though.


Some things about Mac OS X ("Leopard") are great, while others have been maddening. Folder views, for example, while not always consistent on Windows XP, are MUCH more predictable than Leopard. John Siracusa's
Finder & folder view criticisms, are spot on: these global settings are going to drive me nuts.

Oh, my flash drive completely froze the system, too. This really boggled my mind, because the drive's worked with a lot of other Mac OS X systems in the past with no problems. After I had to do a hard restart of the computer, I tried the other USB port and it worked fine. I tried the first port again, and it didn't work. I would understand if it's slightly flaky - the drive's an 8 year-old 64MB drive with a FAT-16 file system, but still... it's weird that it works fine on one port and not the other.

Oh, and the Software Update and other internet problems? Well, I thought it might be a network security thing, so I fiddled with those (WPA 128gigabit RBG HEXSCSI mode, etc.) for a while and it didn't do too much, but the next morning everything seemed to work fine. Go figure. (Update: it's still happening. ::sigh::)

A few surprises (some OS-related, other Application-related):

- Dock magnification is off by default. It just seemed interesting to me, since that was always kind of a "cool" factor in my mind of Mac OS X. I suppose that it's not that practical for everyday use.

- There's a 31 character file name limit on Office v. X?! What a great Carbon port. This is certainly annoying, but I'm not sure if it's enough to make me buy Office '08 for $92. The real problem isn't going to be in creating new files of a certain name length (which does sort of make me feel like I'm back in Windows 3.1), but in editing old or received documents and re-saving them.

- Things get put under Dock from time to time. I've seen this before on other Mac OS X systems, and it never ceases to be annoying. This just shouldn't be possible, just as it shouldn't be possible that windows in Windows shouldn't be able to spring up beyond the viewable area, but it is. In Windows, I've got my Taskbar on top, and programs that don't think about that beforehand sometimes put windows up there, and I have to do some weird key combination to move them around so I can see them. ::shrug:: Either situation, in Windows or Mac OS X, isn't annoying enough to make me switch OS's, but programs just shouldn't do it.

I also copied over and opened an iMovie project from the iMac G4 (iMovie HD? iMovie 5? I don't know which version it is), and then all sorts of things started to go wrong. It didn't open iMovie '09, so I opened the project a second time. Then Word started to go haywire and unresponsive, the system wouldn't restart, and then wouldn't shut down. I had to do a hard reboot, again. That's about 3 or 4 in, like, three days. The project did eventually import into iMovie '09, though.

Shared folders on Windows computers didn't work well at first. The computers showed up with no problem, but when I tried to connect to them, they didn't connect. Or, when they did connect and I tried to open a file, I was denied access because I didn't have the correct permissions. After a while, though, everything worked itself out. I'm not joking: I really changed absolutely no settings, and everything started to work. I was sharing files between the office's desktop, my laptop, etc. Setting up the shared laser printer on the office desktop was relatively painless, too, with about as many hoops to jump through as getting it to work through another Windows XP computer.

For e-mail, I've been using Thunderbird on Windows, and so even though I could've used Thunderbird on the MacBook, I thought I'd give Mail a shot. It would've been a familiar interface if I'd gone with Thunderbird, but I wasn't sure how well it integrated with the rest of the OS/contacts/etc. My current e-mail "system" is that everything is in my Inbox, and I use the "unread" marker as things I need to respond to. I know, I know, it's probably not the best system. But, I hate using folders to organize, because things don't always translate into a black-and-white "this folder as opposed to that folder". So, I keep my Inbox sorted by "Unread", then by date received. Unfortunately, Mail can't do that. ::sigh:: It was slightly disappointing, until I realized I could create a "smart mailbox" that only contains unread items, which in some ways is even better. Having to add contacts is a bear, but that's how it was when I moved from Outlook to Thunderbird, too. Then, I thought I'd try something clever: I exported my contacts from Thunderbird on my HP, put it in my shared folder, copied the file from the shared folder over the network onto my MacBook, and imported the "LDIF" file into Mail. Yes - I am, in fact, very tech-savvy. All the contacts transferred fine, but the groups didn't, so I had to rebuilt those lists. It wasn't a huge deal, though, and only took me about 20 minutes or so.

I had downloaded the last version of the old-school iMovie when it was up as a free download a few months ago. I tried to install it on the MacBook, but couldn't because it said I needed to have installed "iLife '08" first. Huge bummer. I guess that's a good incentive for me to get used to iMovie '09 fast.

Also, this may be something you may already know and I'm just beginning to experience: syncing data between two computers sucks. This week, I brought both the MacBook and my laptop to work, but I certainly don't want to do that forever. My goal is to end up using the Mac exclusively for work, and not relying on any software on my laptop (e.g., Photoshop). So, I'm using
Dropbox for a few things that I occasionally use on both computers (a spreadsheet or two and some pictures), but my fear is that some day I'll be working on something and need a file from my HP that I don't have with me, and it'll make me frustrated. ::shrug:: We'll see.


As I stated at the beginning of this review, switching to something different is always going to result in three different sentiments - the feeling that some things that are nicer, some things are worse, and some things that are just different. I feel like I've touched on a lot of those here, but what's the takeaway message? Would I have rather gotten a PC? Am I happy that I got the Mac?

a complicated answer. I think the truly foundational piece I've read on the topic is John Gruber's "Familiarity Breeds A User Base", written about three years ago. In it, he explains how the familiarity with, and knowledge of, something corresponds to the likelihood of moving to something new. That's exactly how I feel right now. Our first family computer ran DOS 6.2 and Windows 3.1, and I actually enjoyed learning some of the command line, keyboard shortcuts, and Windows tricks. We had that machine for four years, upgrading only the RAM. The next machine we got ran Windows 98SE, and most of what I already knew transferred fine, and I picked up even more knowledge. By my freshman and sophomore years of college, though, using Windows 98 became frustrating: Explorer would crash at least half a dozen times a day, for no apparent reason, and I got at least one BSOD ("blue screen of death") per month. After hearing and reading about Windows XP, I was actually excited about it, and bought it the day it was released. It had its own quirks, sure, but the UI was nicer than Windows 98, and the plug and play support was much better. It didn't have all the drivers I needed, but they came with time. Besides, it was monumentally more stable, and I took to it like a duck to water.

And so, I used Windows XP almost exclusively for the next eight years. To put that into perspective: in the 14 years that I've had a home computer, I've been using Windows XP for over half of them. I've used it twice as long as the next longest OS, which was Windows 3.1. Yeah, it's safe to say that I'm invested in Windows XP; I've got a workflow in Windows XP, I know XP. This isn't even taking into account that I've been on the same hardware now for over three and-a-half years. All the muscle memory isn't just based on OS knowledge, but actual physical muscle memory of my HP zv6130us, its latch and screen, its keyboard layout, and the rest of its clunky hardware.

So if I've got so much invested in Windows, why did I
ask for a Mac? Well, for several reasons. First of all, I really love Keynote and Pages. Whenever I've seen them, I've thought, "Wow, that's so much easier to use." I also want to do more video editing at church, and all the low-cost PC editing software I've used is complete crap: it's buggy, it's confusing, it's terrible. Since we're going to use this for projection, too, I also wanted to avoid using MediaShout, and to me that meant either Keynote or ProPresenter. And, maybe above all else, I was hoping that once I input all my contacts, any kind of syncing would be much easier, with anything. This may turn out to be false, but I hope not: I'm really looking forward to it.

Back in that piece from three years ago, Gruber wrote:

"I don't think there's any easy way for Apple to overcome this familiarity factor, and I think it's the single biggest impediment to would-be-switchers."

He was right then, and still is to an extent. But as it turns out, Apple didn't have to do a thing to overcome it - Microsoft did it for them. The other major reason I asked for a Mac is that I've actually got virtually nothing invested in Windows Vista (or, consequently, Windows 7). I know some keyboard shortcuts are the same, as they always will be, but all the system settings are changed around, the user account control is disastrous, and the UI - desktop, buttons, menus, etc - seem very different and annoying. My investment in Windows XP doesn't extend as much to Vista as I think Microsoft would hope for. ::shrug::

(And, as a last aside - there are easy ways that Apple can help to overcome the "familarity factor". For example, I know I have a larger laptop and therefore larger keyboard on my HP, but gosh, can there please be some Home and End buttons on the MacBook? Or at least have a universal way to invoke them? Maybe I just haven't figured it out yet, but it seems like each Application can designate what Control/Command+Up or Control/Command+Down do, which is terrible. I use Ctrl+Home and Ctrl+End on my HP tons of times a day, and I haven't been able to figure it out yet on the Mac. Also, where's the forward "Delete" key? And why does it say "Delete", when I can select a file, press that key, and nothing happens? Shouldn't it, I don't know, "Delete" it? Apparently not.)

The slight dissatisfaction and frustrations that I feel right now? Most likely temporary. After all, some of the things that I'm most looking forward to just aren't here yet - I haven't bought iWork yet, and been dazzled by its ease of use and great templates that'll save me bunches of time. I haven't bought ProPresenter yet and found out how much more stable it is compared to MediaShout. iPhoto will be nice, but I haven't imported all my pictures yet, or categorized them properly. Having all sorts of contact and calendar information synchronized will be really helpful, but I don't have all the hundreds of contacts and all their info added yet, or calendars set up.

On the other hand, I can wake the MacBook from sleep in under 3 seconds and "Boom", it's ready for me to start working. Make no mistake - I'm really glad I get to use it, and am looking forward to many happy years ahead. And I don't mean that in a small way, I mean it in a big way.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Out For Delivery

"Mar 30, 2009 8:25 AM
On FedEx vehicle for delivery"

Sunday, March 29, 2009


It's left Memphis and headed north.