SlimBlade!

Do you remember the Microsoft Trackball Explorer? Ah the memories! It was a trackball Microsoft offered in the mid-to-late 1990s, if memory serves.

The Microsoft Trackball Explorer

The trackballs available at the time were primarily controlled by placing one’s thumb on the ball and using one’s fingers to click. My experience with these trackballs was a disaster. Such thumb pain from all the required thumb motion! The Trackball Explorer reversed this so one used one’s fingers to move the ball, and one’s thumb to click and scroll. I don’t know why, but this was a heck of a lot more comfortable and greatly reduced my discomfort as compared to a mouse or a thumb-trackball. The two extra buttons, where one’s pinkie and ring finder would naturally rest were a programmable bonus.

Coming back to the current day, I’ve been using my computer more in the new year since my work hours have dropped. I have noted some hand and wrist discomfort from more mouse use. The Trackball Explorer has ceased being an option as it’s been discontinued for a few decades. A few jokers still offer mint specimens for $500 to $1⁠ ⁠000 but let’s be reasonable. So I researched the current crop of trackballs. Happily there were finger-controlled trackballs that were not wireless. Why do you need a controller than never moves to be wireless? Not having batteries or recharging makes the wire the preferred choice.

I decided on the Kensington SlimBlade trackball. Check it out on my desk:

The Kensington SlimBlade trackball.
Yes my keyboard is hella dusty. You don’t have to touch it. Move along…

It’s bigger than I expected. The ball is 5½ damned centimetres (2 ⁠inches) across! There are four buttons, one in each quadrant around the ball. You’ll notice there is no sort of scroll wheel. Must I do without scrolling and limit myself to scrollbars? Hell no! One scrolls by twisting the ball in place. Clockwise is down and counterclockwise is up. It’s very clever and easy to get used to. The only downside is horizontal scrolling requires holding the shift key while twisting the ball. It’s easy but not quite as fluid a motion as your other hand is required.

To use it, the most natural portion is to place one’s three middle fingers on the ball. Do this and the thumb naturally rests on the left-click button and the pinkie on the right-click button. It works very well for me and the discomfort in my hand is much reduced.

A bonus of the symmetrical design is it works equally well for right-handed and left-handed users. If the left-handed user reverses the primary and secondary buttons in his or her login profile, the settings don’t have to be switched back and forth.

It has both advantages and disadvantages over a mouse. Which is better is really a matter of preference, except for gaming … the mouse is better. You certainly use different hand motions to manipulate the mouse so if your hand is hurting from mouse use, the SlimBlade is worth your attention.

Crashplan, no longer

Crashplan,

After three or four years as a customer, I cancelled my subscription to your online backup service yesterday.

A couple of weeks ago, you offered a 50% discount to loyal family plan members who renew, and to single computer customers who upgrade to the family plan. I tweeted and asked if you had any deal to loyal single computer subscribers. Your response to me was to try to get me to upgrade to a family plan. Specifically, you wrote,

You don’t have parents, siblings or cousins with computers? #cheapholidaygifts

That isn’t what I asked, and I also note that including cousins seems to extend the family plan beyond what you allow. Regardless, when I replied that the single computer subscription fit my needs and I wasn’t interested in expanding it, you didn’t think me worth a reply.

In the nearly two weeks between that exchange and the end of the promotion, I saw many tweets referring to a 50%-off subscription rate to existing customers. At least 75% of them made no mention of this deal being limited to the family plan. Perhaps you expanded the offer? I wrote to ask. No reply. This happened three times. Never a reply.

Then late last night I checked again, and your Black Friday sale kicked in. Both plans discounted, but for new customers only.

I get the hint. You want single computer subscribers to upgrade to the family plan, and you want new customers. Raving for two weeks about a 50%-off renewal is great, but if you usually fail to mention that it applies to only a subset of your customers, you’re going out of your way to annoy those to whom is doesn’t apply.

While these other two issues aren’t directly related to my cancelling, they definitely made it easier:

1. Your service is great in that it offers support Windows, OS X, and Linux, but doing this by using a common Java codebase is less than ideal. Backup software using a gigabyte of RAM is ridiculous. I’m glad to have that RAM back!

2. The Twitter campaign you ran over the summer was a disaster. You have 30,000 followers who are interested in Crashplan news and updates, and you saddled them with tweets like this:

Oh, jeez. The Wolf King just showed up. And he’s wearing that I-wanna-get-back-together face. -MadMaxine #FutureWithoutBackup

You build a following, and then rather than offer what they came for, you tweet this kind of thing? I’ve never seen so many complaints, and for good reason. I wrote, asking if you had a feed for only Crashplan news and you told me I was already following it. When I suggested that this ‘campaign’ was ill-conceived, you explained that more like it could be coming.

I wondered how clueless could you be. I’m through wondering. You seem to have trouble understanding how to treat paying customers.

If you offer something, and repeatedly snatch it away, and then ignore me when I ask about it, I get the impression you aren’t terribly interested in my being a paying customer.

Message received, Crashplan.


Logo © 2014 Code 42 Software, Inc.

Welcome to Yosemite

Despite knowing better, I went ahead and installed OS X 10.10 Yosemite. Others are glad to rush in and report the problems if I wait a day or two, but I seem to be one of those who rushed in.

During the upgrade I received an ominous error:

There is not enough free space in the Core Storage Logical Volume Group for this operation. Reboot and try again.

Yea, whaaaat? It offered a reboot button, and no other option. So I rebooted. After a moment, the Mac’s log in screen presented itself … but it was the Yosemite log in screen. I had a very bad feeling about this unexpected turn of events, but I logged in and the installation continued onward, seemingly without incident.

I have my main volume encrypted with FileVault2, and perhaps after a reboot, the installer couldn’t access the drive. Still, I would think that they would have tested installation with FileVault2 enabled! Still, I don’t know that was the issue so I’m doing nothing more than guessing.

Regardless, I seem to be okay. The installation finished without obvious problems and I’m running Yosemite.

I have a some random thoughts after just a few hours:

  • I’ve read that the user interface is much flatter with fewer elements to simulate depth. I read correctly. This interface is flat. It’s hardly objectionable, though.
  • The flat dock is a return to old times for many, but I joined the Mac bandwagon with 10.5 Leopard, just as interface elements really started gaining depth.
  • I hate the Finder icon. It looks demented.
  • I love the desktop drive icons.
  • My mid-2011 iMac is a year too old to support Handoff and the other Continuity features. Bluetooth 4.0 with its Bluetooth Low Energy support is required, and any iMac older than mid-2012 doesn’t have it. I will not be taking any phone calls from my Mac.
  • The iCloud Drive and its integration with the iWork apps looks cool so far. Happily, despite Apple’s wanting to differentiate iCloud Drive from Dropbox and other similar services, the files you’ve put into iCloud Drive are on your local disk at /Users/username/Library/Mobile Documents, and therefore backed up with Time Machine.
  • The sidebar in iTunes 12 is largely gone. You can bring up a sidebar by choosing the Playlists option at the top, but the sidebar that appears shows only your music, music videos, and playlists. The one-stop sidebar seems to be history. It wasn’t pretty, but it was entirely functional.
  • If something just looks different and you can’t quite nail it down, it’s probably the typeface. Lucida Grande it out and Helvetica Neue is here to replace it. The change isn’t huge, but it’s noticeable.
  • Safari still doesn’t offer inferior (lowercase) numbers despite being directed to do so with the font-feature-settings option of the @fontface CSS command. Every other browser I’ve tried, both webkit and non-webkit, handle it correctly. If even Internet Explorer can do it, what’s your excuse, Safari?
  • My first Time Machine back up after upgrading to Yosemite and allowing the Mac App Store to update my apps was just over 13GB.

Overall, I like it so far.

A virtual goodbye

When I switched to the Mac five years ago, I brought Windows along for the ride. VMware Fusion is one of a few pieces of software that allow your Mac to ‘host’ a large number of ‘guest’ operating systems. This virtualization software presents an environment to the guest operating system that seems like a real computer, but it’s entirely constructed of software. After starting VMware fusion for the first time, you need to either download a virtual machine or create your own. In my case, I wanted Windows, so I had to install Windows into its own virtual machine. Once I had done that, I had a great big file on my hard drive called WindowsXP. To run Windows, all I have to do is start VMware Fusion, select WindowsXP, choose ‘Start,’ and watch Windows boot in a window on my Mac. It’s really surreal the first few times.

Getting files in and out of the virtual machine might seem problematic. The computer doesn’t really exist, after all! Happily, it’s not at all difficult. The virtual machine exists on your local network, alongside all of your other hardware so you can connect to any shared resources, including the host computer. When you install the guest operating system, VMware Fusion suggests that you creates a network share to your home folder on the Mac. Do that and you’re golden.

When I started using the Mac, my Windows virtual machine had most of the applications installed that I used on my old Windows system. Over time, I found suitable replacements on the Mac, and I used Windows less and less. Then at work, we moved to Macs even though the core application we used, Adobe FrameMaker, runs only on Windows. We used VMware Fusion for FrameMaker so I created a virtual machine specifically for my use when I worked at home. I used it often and it worked without issue.

I was laid off and no longer use VMware Fusion for work. In fact, the only use I’ve had to the software is to install and play with Windows 8. Not being crazy about Windows 8, to put it politely, VMware Fusion hasn’t seen a lot of use. I’ve downloaded some Linux virtual machines intending on refamiliarizing myself with the operating system, but it’s not a big priority and there’s always something else I want to do more.

Then earlier this week I read that VMware has announced Fusion 6, and the main feature is compatibility with OS X 10.9 Mavericks, the next version of the Mac operating system. So if I want to use Fusion after I upgrade the operating system, I have to upgrade Fusion. Fusion costs $60, or if you have one of the previous two version, the upgrade cost is $50. My first thought was, “$50? I’m not paying that!” It’s funny because that’s often my reaction when new versions of software are announced. Then it quickly occurred to me that my knee-jerk reaction was absolute fact this time. I don’t need Fusion any more. If I want to have a Windows virtual machine ready in case I need one, or if I want to fool around with Linux, I can use VirtualBox, a free open-source virtualization software package. I wouldn’t depend on it for my livelihood, but just for experimenting, it will serve.

Fusion was a must-have piece of software the whole time I had a Mac…until now.


Graphic © 2013 VMware, Inc.

Bluetooth

Ever wonder why they named the short-range wireless communication protocol ‘Bluetooth’? I have, but I never thought to look it up. Then I hear on an episode of Cash Cab that it was named for a king of Norway or something. How does that make any sense? The bluetooth.com site sorts it out:

‘Bluetooth’ was the code name for the SIG when it was first formed and the name stuck. The name “Bluetooth” is actually very old! It is from the 10th century Danish King Harald Blåtand — or Harold Bluetooth in English. King Blåtand was instrumental in uniting warring factions in parts of what is now Norway, Sweden and Denmark — just as Bluetooth technology is designed to allow collaboration between different business sectors such as the computing, mobile phones and automotive industries.

The story doesn’t end there. According to the Wikipedia entry on Bluetooth, the logo is a combination of Harald’s initials in Younger Futhark runes. The particular runes are Hagall and Bjarkan, respectively, as you see to the left.

Neat!


Logo and runes courtesy of Wikipedia.