How Apple Improved Usability With A Single Mostly Ignored Software Update

In six months with this MacBook Pro, I think I have acclimated pretty well to this other way of doing things. But there was one particular action or behavior that I hated. One reason that the package that is a MacBook wasn’t as complete as the competition, specifically a Thinkpad. That one action was the method for clicking and dragging.

On the Thinkpad, there is the Track Stick, Pointing Stick, whatever its called. Most people don’t spend the time required to get used to it, but once you do, it seems to be the most perfect pointing device. In fact, given the choice of an external mouse or the pointing stick, I will dump the mouse any day. It is so much more precise, quick, and useful that nothing else really could compare. The fact that I could have my index finger on the stick and my thumb on the mouse buttons allowed me to make intricate masks in Photoshop, drag and drop with ease, and select just the text I needed without any overlap.

Move over to the Mac, and that simple integration of man with machine was broken. Clicking and dragging became a chore. I had to either dumb myself down in Photoshop, or start carrying an external mouse. My knuckles were aching from pushing down that massive trackpad and dragging to grab a short piece of text. I was thinking I might have to get one of those external Thinkpad keyboards to get that efficiency back with the Mac.

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But then a month or so ago, Apple changed the game. With a single feature that most people probably didn’t think twice about. Three Finger Dragging makes my one big complaint about this hardware just disappear. And I didn’t even pay attention to it until just a few minutes ago. I had been using it since the day the update was released and it came so natural. Its really incredible!!

Last night, I painted with a brush in Photoshop. With three fingers swirling around the Trackpad, I covered the area I needed just perfectly. Changing brush sizes with the keyboard shortcuts and back to dragging and I got exactly what I intended. Selecting text to copy into emails and documents works the first time with no sore knuckles. I was dragging files between folders in a Windows RDP session so effortlessly that I wasn’t missing that track stick at all.

Of course, now I wish the TrackPad was a little bit bigger, but the fact that I can leave the three fingers on the pad, then use the index finger of the other hand to continue the behavior means that the trackpad really has an infinite width and height. It has turned a pretty good piece of technology into what could be the most perfect pointing device ever, all with a single, mostly ignored software update.

MacBook Pro, I think I love you.

Now Apple, if you could just add the three finger tap to give me a middle click without having to use add-ons, I will be over the moon.

How To Keep Your Notes In Sync, Where Ever You Are

I absolutely adore developers who realize that their platform isn’t the only platform. Developers who know there is something else out there and are OK with it. A lot of devs think their platform is the best, and that if the customer doesn’t feel that way, well they just don’t get it. That’s true on both the Windows side and the Mac side. But when the dev goes a bit further and enables the opposite platform to integrate, well that’s just perfect.

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SimpleNote is just one such application. I guess it started with the iPhone app. And if they ended it there, I would know nothing about it since I don’t own an iPhone. But they also have a web app at https://simple-note.appspot.com/index.html (shown here). I am not a huge fan of working in the cloud: having the content up there is fine, as long as I can edit on the platform I care about. So if they ended it there, I would still probably not know anything about it. But the magic came when they opened up that web app for other developers to integrate in with.

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What got me interested was Notational Velocity. And I am not really sure why I got interested. After all, the Notational Velocity website is terrible. After reading the page, I had no idea what it did. But for some reason I ran it on my Mac and I got it: a text-based non-relational database with a query interface so frickin easy that anyone can use it. Just start typing. If there is a note with that text, the title will show in the list. Keep typing to narrow the search. Arrow down to select your note, or just press enter to start a new one. Give it 30 seconds and it will totally click.

At that point I checked out the web client. It worked pretty much the same way and now I really saw the value of having it up there. This is probably the right time to check out the Extras page at SimpleNote. There are Windows-based apps that work with it as well. So I installed ResophNotes.

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While it doesn’t have quite the same level of ease of use as Notational Velocity, I was quickly able to get the sync going and see all my notes there as well. I edit on Windows, see the notes on Mac, make some changes on the web site, see them on Windows. It just works, and it works on most of the platforms I care about. If there was a Blackberry app as well, I would be in heaven.

Now you might look at this and wonder why I would get excited over a simple notepad app. After all, Evernote does all of this and more, right? While its true that Evernote is an amazing application, it never sucked me in quite as well as this. I personally feel that Evernote is trying to do too much, at least for me. SimpleNote and its derivations are just what I need when I want to make a quick note of something, and then find it easily where ever I am right now.

I Now Live Just One Kilometer From A UNESCO World Heritage Site

 

About four years ago, I pointed to the UNESCO World Heritage Site as a way to pick some of the most amazing places to visit in the world. Back then I had visited 34 of the places on the list. I really should update that since I know I have seen a lot more in the last four years. And now I can add the fact that I live in the same town as one. In fact, I am just 1 Km away from it.

This past weekend, the Amsterdam city center was added to the list. Thats all the stuff inside the Singelgracht. Unfortunately, my apartment is just outside of that boundary. But my first apartment was inside…on the corner of Prinsengracht and Utrechtsestraat. If you aren’t sure where the Singelgracht is, I created this Google Map showing the border. Well, I did, then I realized that I didn’t know where the canal was either.

Its pretty exciting being this close to a UNESCO site. But I wonder what it means to those on the inside. Will property values go up? Will they try even harder to get rid of the last of the coffee shops and red light windows? Will the waiting list for a parking permit go above the current 7 year wait??? I wonder.

Sometimes Kelby Has Some Bizarre Things To Say

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One of the blogs I read on a regular basis is that of Scott Kelby over at scottkelby.com. Usually he has interesting things to say about taking better pictures. But occasionally he says something…misguided….but true. Yesterday’s post was an example of one of these less than accurate articles. He was talking about standard frame sizes and why the 8×12 frame size should replace the more acceptable 8×10.

I agree. I agree wholeheartedly that the 8×10 frame size should disappear in favor of 8×12. Actually, I would suggest going further and join the rest of the world by going to a 210×297 mm size instead. All of my commercial prints in the last 5 years have been the 20x30cm standard size and frames (over here) are very easy to come by.

But Scott’s reasoning is completely flawed. I assume he was just having a bad day. He said its because digital is replacing 35mm film for the standard type of camera people own today. But where this is screwed up is that 35mm film and most common digital sensors have roughly the same aspect ratio. So he should have said 8×12 should be the standard size since 35mm has replaced 8×10 glass plates as the most popular image capture format.