Thursday, 10 August 2006

Postcard from the West Country

See Cornwall? No, actually you can't - not on the weather map, anyway, as it's covered by cloud. It doesn't matter what time of year I come here, it's always clouds and rain interrupted by sunny spells. Not that I'm complaining. Or maybe I am.

It has been a good and bad week or two so far - mostly good. Good because I'm on my hols. Bad(ish) because my other half wrote an article for the Independent last week that was harldy, er, Apple-friendly. That wasn't the bad part. That bad part was that I couldn't resist the urge to flick through some Mac websites I frequent a couple of days afterwards; I wish I hadn't. To see the name of the mother of your children abused in such puerile ways is hideous. It didn't help that the Independent subs butchered her article so that it started with the words, "When I switch on my MacBook, the first thing I see is the happy Mac icon..." (or some such). She didn't write that, they did. As soon as we picked it up, I said, "You are going to be crucified for that. Every Mac user out there is going to read that first line and say, 'No, it isn't.'" And unsurprisingly, such was the case. Many assumed that the writer of the article didn't use a Mac, was an Apple-bashing liar, and so on. But the article made some very valid points about recent Apple QCA issues and their tendency to treat the press with disdain. She tried hard to give Apple the opportunity to respond to everything in the article, but they weren't interested in getting anyone to speak to her personally, other than to send her previously-published press-releases. So it goes, as old Kurt Vonnegut would say. Ho-hum.

Anyway, that's the defence of my better half done; not that she particularly cares - hell, she got paid decently for the article. It's just that I happen to care when I see her name slandered on websites that I, as rather keen Apple user (and actually, she is a Mac-fan herself, she just happens not to worship at the temple), frequent.

As for Scrivener: it really is going well. I just finished writing the Spotlight importer today. It was a pain, but it only took a day to do, so I'm not complaining. Services support is done and dusted, so is the search function, find and replace, and several features that I said would never make it into 1.0. Another month or two, and there should be a beta release... I'm looking forward to it. It's been over two-thirds of a year since the last beta was released, and I seriously think that this version is a downright good program, and holds its own against some very stiff competition.

Anyway, back to scouring the Cocoa forums for a tidbit I need.

Monday, 24 July 2006

Argh! I don't believe it! (As Victor Meldrew would say.) I'm on my third top case and trackpad for this ruddy MacBook, and now they are starting to discolour too - after less than a week. This is ridiculous. Will I have to send my MacBook back to Apple every fortnight forever just to make sure that it doesn't look like a dirty pancake? What was the point of them agreeing to repair it (twice) if they didn't have replacement parts that were immune to the same problems? Is it just me? Do I have corrosive, yellow sweat? I think not... My white T-shirts and work shirts don't turn yellow. My white iBook never turned yellow. But this MacBook... It would seem that there is a whole batch of faulty plastic still out there, and the Birmingham repair centre is still using them. Very frustrating. Anyway...

Another shot of Scrivener to cheer me up:

Monday, 17 July 2006

Buggy monitor...

I think this is the funniest post to the Apple support forums I have ever seen:

I feel sorry for the guy, I really do, but I couldn't help laughing my head off. Here's a direct link to the YouTube vid, in which you can see the guy try, but fail, to swat the insect living inside his monitor:

I'm going to make no jokes about buggy machines... Oh, wait - I just did. And in the title too. Whoops.

Saturday, 15 July 2006

When I was teaching at Harvard, darlings...

In today's Grauniad, Zadie Smith writes about the "genesis" of her recent Booker-prize winning novel, On Beauty. Some quotes:

"Public accounts [of how a book begins] tend to have a fictional texture - this is not to say they're untrue, but they are writerly explanations, fished from the sea that is the book itself."

"The clues to the more personal elements of that process are in the writer's private past, the subconscious family romances that return you to the same ideas over and over. I'm too superstitious to unpick those..."

"The larger clues are on the shelves and piled up on the desk. In the case of On Beauty, these books were old favourites, because I was teaching them at Harvad. Nabakov, Forster, Kafka, Zora Neale Hurston, Paula Fox, John Updike, WG Sebald..."

"With a brazen ahistoricism I can't intellecutally defend..."

"When I was writing, I thought the comic tautology and sheer metaphysical weirdness of..."

"My sympathy is with old-fashioned existentialism; it is the struggle to 'be' that interests me when I write; to 'be' without mediation or self-delusion."

Bollocks, more like.

She goes on to quote (predictably) David Foster Wallace (she is clearly proud that she has read his tomb stone of a book that normal people file away on their shelves next to Ulysses - that is, if they are strong enough to hawk it home from the bookshop).

Smith wrote half a good book - the first half of White Teeth. The second half was utter crap; I can only speculate that this may have been the result of her getting a lucrative and infamous publishing deal halfway through writing it. The Autograph Man was utter tosh and I could only bear to read the first three chapters. Perhaps I should give On Beauty a chance, but pretentious writing like this only alienates me even more. Anyone can throw in a clever-sounding quote, see:

Good writers have two things in common: they prefer to be understood rather than admired; and they do not write for knowing and over-acute readers.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Something of which Smith would do well to take heed. Until then, she should be locked in a room with A.S. Byatt, the other chief Grauniad-favoured prolix bag of wind, and have a camera pointed at them with a direct feed to the world's living rooms so that we can all learn how to say very little in a large number of incredibly lengthy words (apart from the most frequent word you would hear from their mouths, which would, of course, be "I").

Wednesday, 12 July 2006

The Mac is back... to Apple

Sigh... UPS just came around to take my MacBook back to Apple - again. I do hope they fix everything this time around - the discolouration, the poorly fitted replacement top-case, the chip they caused in the polycarbonate and so on. I don't have particularly high hopes, but at least they are trying to do something about the whole mess. It does mean that I am back on my beloved iBook for a few days, but I do miss the lovely keyboard of my MacBook, not to mention the glossy screen. (A lot of people were very upset that the MacBook had a glossy screen, but I actually prefer it.)

Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Edward Wheatley of Norfolk

Edward Wheatley of Norfolk, wherever you are, I salute you for your hilarious parody of antiquated and anachronistic attitudes in your letter to the Sunday Times of 9th July, 2006! It perfectly captures the sort of thing you might have expected a Daily Mail reader to have written twenty years ago. Ha! Oh, hold on a minute. You weren't being serious, were you?

"The problem with Saxondale (BBC2) is that it is simply not funny. But, of course, it's not meant to be. Like so much comedy, its purpose is not to amuse a mass audience but to impress the writers' friends, demonstrate their "right-on" credentials to students and win prizes from gullible judges. How much better it would be had these writers and their target audience done national service rather than gone to university."
- Edward Wheatley, Norfolk

Yes, because national service clearly did you the world of good, didn't it? Quite honestly, I think that anybody who can possibly suggest that the best strategy for sorting out the world's ills is to put guns in the hands of the younger generation and train them to think like sheep and shoot Johnny Foreigner is clearly pathological and should be locked up for everybody's sake.

That said, I often think of the inverted "Assylum" in So Long And Thanks For All The Fish. The number of toothpick-like triggers out there is accumulating exponentially on a daily basis (if this last part means nothing to you then your life is impoverished but you can fix it immediately: go out and read the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy collection - now).

Sunday, 9 July 2006

M for Mac Junkies

I am a Mac-user. Obviously, or I wouldn't be developing an application in Cocoa for OS X. I like OS X. Actually, I love OS X. OS X is a wonderful operating system. And Apple machines look rather nice. THIS DOES NOT MAKE APPLE COMPUTER INFALLIBLE. It just means they have some good software engineers and designers. Okay. There, I said it. Now go ahead and flame me all you want.

Again and again I am baffled by the fanboy-ism of a certain breed of Mac user. This is, I know, only a sub-species of Mac user which just happens to be the most vocal. They no doubt emerged from the same shallows of the gene pool as did PlayStation and Xbox fanboys who have endless slanging matches about which console is "best". They do Apple no favours. Such fervent and inherently irrational devotion to a computer manufacturing corporation put me off buying a Mac for years. (I still feel queasy if I have to step into the Apple church of Scientology, sorry, I mean Regent Street store.) The quiet majority are a much better advertisement for Apple; I doubt you will ever find Phillip Pullman on a forum accusing anybody of being a Microsoft troll merely for stating that they have a problem with an Apple product, as did one poster to the Apple support forums today:

"Quite honestly I think a majority of the complaints are coming from non-Mac users who have infiltrated these newsgroups. As an OS/2 advocate for many years I was always under attack by Microsoft fanatics masquerading as OS/2 users. Their intent is to scare or drive people away from one OS and to their chosen product. Microsoft was actually found, at one time, to have paid employees to do such work... So don't pay much attention to them."

Paranoia, paranoia, everybody's coming to get me... Whenever I post on that forum, I feel that I have to balance any problems I have with my machine with praise for Apple, lest I am flamed for daring to imply that a single Apple machine out there might not be perfect. I confess that there are times when such users, and Apple's attitude to its users and the press, make me think about returning to a PC just to be away from such ugliness of attitude. Of course, such madness is only momentary: one look at OS X, or at the Cocoa support forums, where Apple software engineers such as Douglas Davidson, John Randolph and Ali Ozer all give support to programmers for free, reminds me that I could never return to Windows. But like I say, such users do Apple no favours.

Meanwhile, the new top case to my MacBook - which was replaced because the old one suffered from the discolouration problem - seems to be, er, suffering from some minor discolouration already. It was only replaced three days ago, and already, if I look at it from an angle, I can see a yellow-ish patch which I cannot clean off. It seems that Apple are aware of the problem and have taken a decision to replace affected top cases but still haven't tracked down the root cause. Great.

Thursday, 6 July 2006

Apple "Repair"...

Well, after much moaning to AppleCare, they finally agreed to take my MacBook in and replace the top-casing, which has suffered from the infamous "discolouration" issue - it seems that Apple are finally starting to take this seriously. And I have to say that the AppleCare service was quite amazing. They agreed to take my machine in for repair on the Friday. A box arrived with TNT the following Tuesday, and TNT took it away there and then. Apple repaired the machine on the Wednesday and I received it back on the Thursday (today) - fantastic. Except...

Except that the "repair" seems a bit of a botch-job to me. I don't think it's being too fussy or anal to expect a near-perfect machine from the get-go for nearly £1,000. It looks like Apple may disagree, though... They have indeed replaced my top-casing with a lovely new, pristine white one. However, they have only replaced the plastic around the keyboard. I naively assumed that they would also replace the plastic around the screen while they were at it, given that they are made of the identical material. But no such luck. The plastic right around the iSight camera is starting to discolour where my thumb lifts up the lid. It's not very noticable as of yet, but then my thumb only comes into contact with it several times a day, whereas my palms were in contact with the palm-rests for several hours. It doesn't take a genius (or a Genius) to work out that within a couple of months the plastic around the screen is going to look pretty shabby, too.

On top of that, the top-casing doesn't even seem fitted properly to me. It's certainly not flush against the polycarbonate case as it used to be. There is a millimetre gap between the top-casing and the polycarbonate in front of the left palm-rest and the trackpad. I can fit a thumbnail under there. All it will take is to catch it on something, and the plastic is going to get damaged - not to mention that dust is going to get under there.

And on top of that, the Apple engineers who replaced the top-casing obviously weren't too careful. There is now a small nick in the polycarbonate on the left of the keyboard, right next to the top-casing - obviously where they have used a screwdriver or something to prise off the old top-casing.

And if all that wasn't enough to weep into my bank statement, when I booted up my machine I found that everything was gone. It turns out that they replaced my hard-drive, too, as when they did lots of diagnostic tests before returning the machine to me, they found the original hard-drive was dodgy. Great! So now I have to reinstall everything, and I am really annoyed because there was one picture of Thurston that I used for my user account picture that I forgot to back up. Grrr.

Obviously, I called AppleCare about all of these issues about ten minutes after checking out the returned machine. Again I spoke to someone very helpful, although he told me that because the repair centres check over the machines very carefully before returning them to customers to try to ensure that they won't need to be returned for repair for anything else anytime soon, the fact that my machine had been returned to me probably meant that all the problems I have are considered "within spec" (which to me sounds horribly close to "it'll do"). He said he only knew of problems with discolouration of the top-casing on MacBooks, and not with the area around the iSight, and he wasn't aware that they are made of the same plastic (which seemed odd to me, given that he was the laptops expert - hey, he said "laptop", surely he must have meant "notebook"; these things are too hot to be "laptops"! It made me wonder if he had ever actually seen a MacBook, as it only takes one glance to see that the area around the screen is made of the same plastic as the top-casing...). Anyway, like I say, he was very friendly and helpful, and asked me to send him some photos of all my issues so that he could discuss them with engineering. He promised to get back to me next week, so I will just have to wait and see what happens.

To be honest, I could probably live with all these minor imperfections - the machine works, I can use it to develop and then use Scrivener quite happily. But why should I just "live with" a brand-new machine? After all the discolouration fuss, I think I'm entitled to a little perfection.

Rant Ends.

Monday, 12 June 2006


You know, I really am quite prolix.


Except in that last entry, of course.

Sunday, 11 June 2006


Wow. I've just been called a Mac fanboy (or near enough) over on the Apple support forums. Despite the fact that I bemoan Apple as much as extol them. Why are people so rude and downright nasty on forums? A question on University Challenge recently revealed that given a certain number of users and a certain amount of time, the chances of someone calling somebody else a Nazi on any given public forum on the internet soon rises to 100%. Someone elsewhere pointed out that because they can't be seen, many people forget basic manners when using the internet. No one has a chance to say, "Say that to my face." What sad, little people they must be, if the only thing they can do to make themselves feel better about their lives is to insult strangers whilst hidden behind a mask of anonymity.

The brand new yellow MacBook

Well, this is annoying. Lots of people have complained about issues with the new MacBooks - "mooing" coming from the fan, whining, overheating, crashing, warping; you name it. Of course, much of this seems disproportionate: if you hang out at a support site, you are only going to hear from people with problems, not satisfied customers. All the same, I have not had a single problem with my white MacBook (touch wood) - sure, it runs hotter than I'd like, and I'm going to get one of those lap cooler thingimajigs so that, should we want more children, the option will not have been cooked away, but other than that this thing is lovely.

Except... After two weeks of heavy-ish use, I noticed that the trackpad and palm-rests (especially the right one, because my right-hand does all the trackpad work) had started to turn a horrible yellowish colour:

It looks like I've been smoking 60 a day and breathing heavily on the surface of my MacBook for two years. Not pretty. It's also very surprising, given that I have owned an iBook for two years and it never suffered from anything like this - it's a bit scuffed, but there is no discolouration anywhere. And it seems that other's are having the same issues after a few weeks' use, too:

(I hope that last one doesn't disappear - I've noticed that the Apple mods are quite trigger happy when it comes to deleting posts.)

I wonder if this is why Apple charge extra for the black MacBook? Someone somewhere noted that Apple only care about how lovely their products look in the store; they don't care how they look a few days later, because cosmetic issues aren't covered under AppleCare. Well, I hope whoever said that is wrong, but judging by the bad press that Apple is receiving recently for this sort of thing, it seems not.

Personally, I can live with it. My MacBook is just a machine, after all, and so long as it works well, I'm happy. I couldn't afford to wait for another revision, because I need an Intel machine now so that I can make sure Scrivener is Intel-ready, but I do hope that Apple fix this issue for the next batch of MacBooks - if you are thinking of buying one and don't want to pay the "black tax", you might want to wait.

What you don't see on those Apple ads:

"Hi, I'm a Mac."
"And I'm a PC. Is that jaundice or are those just liver spots?"

I do wonder: why is there a continued discrepancy between the brilliance of the Apple software engineers and the rest of the company?

Saturday, 3 June 2006

Pedanticism gone mad

From today's Guardian:

Dan Chiasson... he has a lot about which to be smug

Friday, 2 June 2006

Scrivener icons (and distractions)

Half-term is pretty much over. As soon as it gets to 3.15pm on a Friday, that's the holiday over. Ho-hum. I spent most of this week designing the icons and graphics for Scrivener. I spent the first day or two just surfing the web trying to find good PhotoShop tutorials. I came across this:

I was always into drawing cartoons as a kid, and I still enjoy sketching occasionally, though ultimately I don't have the patience to produce anything particularly good. These tutorials are fantastic, though, especially if you want to draw the female form in a comic-book style. So needless to say, they distracted me from my real purpose - icon design - for a good few hours. They just give a good overview of getting the proportions right. For instance, when I sketch a face freehand, I always have problems getting the size of the eyes to match when drawing the face at an angle. The tutorial on faces ( really helped, though. This is what I came up with:

Anyway. As far as the icons go, I ended up playing around in PhotoShop with layer style settings, gradient fills and the shape tool, and after nearly a week's work, I have finally managed to put together the icon set that I will use for Scrivener 1.0 (a few of the icons are just modified common Apple icons):

The only one I'm not 100% certain about is the binder icon, which doesn't sit at the right angle if you're going by the Apple Human Interface Guidelines (it's sloping backwards when it should be sitting straight, as though sitting on a shelf). I'll probably leave it for now, though - I really have to get onto rebuilding the interface, and I don't want this thing to get stuck in development hell forever.

Mobile phones

Much as I hate them,* mobile phones have reinvigorated a part of our language which was hitherto sadly neglected outside of learning to read and clever literary novels: present tense. Before mobile phones, anybody standing at a bus stop announcing loudly, "I am at the bus-stop," or proclaiming, "I am in a shop," whilst paying for their groceries, would have been taken and locked away. Now, I'm not saying it wouldn't be a good idea to lock away the loud and rude mobile-phone-users who do this on buses and in shops, but that's just the way of the world.

Salinger: "The human voice conspires to desecrate everything on earth."

*Or used to. Now it's more a grudging tolerance. I even own one - though, much to the annoyance of friends, I refuse to put any numbers into the thing or have it switched on. Ever.

Christmas Tree Farm and toddler talk

You know, when I was younger and greener, a friend of mine had a young child who spent a lot of time with us. We all lived in a big post-student house and her daughter spent a lot of weekends in said house. And I, what with being younger and greener and all that, had a notion that capitalism and ownership must be a learned concept, based on an isolated observation of this girl's daughter giving away without any qualms whatsoever some pine cones she had collected. ("When you have your own children" is a sentence-starter that can be on a par with "When I found God", so I apologise for the next sentence:) When you have your own children, such illusions are soon shattered (I wanted to put in a simile referring to a chimera and Belleraphon here, but my Greek mythology just isn't up to it). The first words most of these little tykes learn is ,"No, mine! Mine, mine, MINE!" Ho-hum.

All the same, watching language develop is fun and interesting in equal measure. I wish toddler social habits could be carried on into the adult world (admittedly, some adults have toddler social habits). It being half-term and all, today we did one of our family trips and visited Christmas Tree Farm in Downe. I was surprised there was so much greenery so close to South London. Anyway, of all the animals on display, Thurston went straight for the chickens, turkeys and ducks. Over and over again. We dragged him around the rest of the farm, to be sure, but that was where his heart was. But you know, as we walked around the farm, it kind of depressed me. The parenting skills on display, I mean, You get into the farm and you can buy, for a mere 50p, a bucket of animal feed. And strewn across this farm were empty buckets. Not just one or two, but dozens. Which adds up to a lot of parents who just do not give a flying donut about their child littering. At this point, I need to calm my blood pressure. But I digress. Blah blah, terrible kids, terrorising animals, blah blah, and then Thurston, after saying, "Sorry chicken" to some chicken he's bumped into with the gate, pours the rest of the animal feed right over the top of a chicken, laughs his lungs out, and then spends the next ten minutes chasing ducks. Toddler fun, parental consternation (which could be a mantra). And after that, we go to a local pub, and in the garden there is a toddler play area, and a little girl playing in the wooden den-house. And this is how Thurston, without further ado, introduces himself to the little girl: "I chased ducks." Now that's an introduction, and no mistake.

I sort of wish, now, that I hadn't spent so much time in my younger days (not that I'm exactly old, but hey, Jesus died when he was my age, and Kurt Kobain, who, let's face it, has had far more impact on my life than Jesus, died when he was six years younger than I am right now) wasting time on deliberating about how to meet people (did I say people? I meant girls). You just march right up and, without further ado (or embarrassment), announce the most important aspect of your day or life. Some possible introductions:

"I ate eggs for breakfast."

"I bought PCGamer."

"I surfed for porn."

"I typed over one thousand meaningless numbers into Excel today. That's more than yesterday. Meaningless, I mean."

Come to think of it, I doubt if it would have helped. But it might be worth a go anyway. At worst, the other person will just think you're talking on your hands-free mobile phone. Feel free to leave your own, should you happen by.

Thursday, 1 June 2006

Half-Term: Nearing the end of Kafka on the Shore

Half-term... How come doing nothing for days on end speeds up time? Makes me think of that character in Catch 22 who spends his time trying to be as bored as possible, so as to prolong the hours he has left alive.

Anyhoo. I've spend much of this week redesigning the graphic files for Scrivener. I'm no graphic designer, so the process has been tedious and time-consuming. I've also finished the design document for the redesigned 1.0, so as soon as these graphic files are finished, I'm ready to start stitching together all the code I have back into a better interface. Wish it was finished already - I just want to use the thing and get on with the writing.

In the meantime, I've finally registered a domain name to use to sell Scrivener. I played around with a lot of names, thinking that I needed some professional software company-sounding name like the competition (Blue Technologies, Bartas Technologies, Devon Technologies et al). But everything I came up with had either gone or was just plain awful. So in the end, I went with something that doesn't sound like a software company at all - because I'm not a software company. When I was younger I always said I wanted to own a bookshop-cum-vegetarian-cafe (not with much conviction; it always sounded cool but way too much like hard work). The name of this putative cafe was going to be "Literature and Latte" - the name of this blog. So that is the domain I have chosen for Scrivener:

I think it reflects exactly what I want it to - a place to hang out where literature is the most important thing. Which is what Scrivener should be. The writing should come above the technology...

EDIT: I set up this blog a year ago and only posted to it once. Now that I read that one post back, I realise I said much the same back then as regards the explanation for the name. At least I'm living up to the Marcus Aurelius quote, I guess.

EDIT 2: Huh. And looking at that last post, I realise that I posted it five days before getting hit by a large, red, bendy London bus. Still, the scar gives me something to point to when reading Harry Potter to my class...

Wednesday, 19 April 2006

Apple Pie

I don't get it. What is it with Apple? Why does the brand inspire such religious zealoutry in its consumers? Let me start by saying, I love Mac OS X. Love it, love it, love it. I first bought an Apple machine a couple of years ago because, despite their reputation for making expensive machines, the iBook was, at the time, the cheapest laptop available that did not weigh about the same as a small off-shore tanker. I wanted small, I wanted light and I wanted portable, and the iBook was all that. And I fell in love. Actually, another reason I bought an Apple was that I figured:

1) You can't customise them as easily, so I would no longer be continually tinkering with (and breaking) the inside of my computer.
2) The whole system was so alien to me that I wouldn't be able mess around coding ugly programs instead of getting on with The Novel.

One out of two isn't bad - little did I know that Apple actually provide their development tools (Xcode) for free with the operating system (Microsoft sell Visual Studio for another $1,000). Nor did I realise how easy programming for a Mac would be (and what great books there are out there to help you along the way, such as Stephen Kochan's Programming in Objective-C or Aaron Hillegass's Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X). So in actual fact, I ended up spending more time on programming, as I suddenly realised that I could actualise my writing software idea (which I was originally going to call BookTree, and then Hemingway, but is these days known as Scrivener).

Yeah, and I guess I also liked the idea of owning an Apple computer, mainly because of various Douglas Adams rants.

And my iBook really was/is a beautiful machine. I had nary a problem with it. I liked it so much that I've just bought its replacement, a white MacBook. It's as hot as a summer in hell, but I like that, too.

But... Apple. They're just a computer company that happen to make some stylish machines and a very solid operating system, right? That's what I thought until I had cause to go into their Regent Street store, at least. You know I said I had "nary" a problem with my iBook? Well, the one problem I did have was with the power lead. Being a clumsy oaf myself, and having a toddler who follows in my unsteady steps, the power lead on my old iBook took quite a battering, and got bent all out of sorts after one-too-many-trips over the lead. And one day my boy decided to compound the problem by giving it a good wiggle, at which point the wire inside the connector snapped off and got well-and-truly-stuck inside the computer. (The new MacBooks have a magnetic connection to prevent problems just like this one, which is testament to some good designers who actually think about solutions to the problems of the old line.)

This necessitated a trip to the Regent Street store, which had fortunately sprung into being since I bought my iBook. I had high expectations: online folk from the US and Japan had raved about the Apple stores, the amazing customer service and the downright genius of the folk at the Apple "genius bars". Of course, I should have known: this is London. They ain't gonna give a toss.

After a while spent in the queue for the Genius Bar at the Regent Street store, I had a sneaking suspicion that I had accidentally walked into a church of Scientology. Everyone was bovine-calm and customers were staring at the machines much as a Catholic might a shrine to Mary mother of God. I'm sure I could hear an ethereal whispering of "Join us, join us!" somewhere beneath the babble of the crowds, and I didn't feel entirely confident that I would be allowed to leave without promising to face in the direction of Cupertino and chant the name of Jobs thrice at least four times a day.

Anyway, get this: I had to queue for half an hour at the Genius Bar just to talk to a lady making appointments for the Genius Bar. In front of me were a gazillion poor folk with broken iPods. Those who had paid 200-or-however-much-it-is quid for AppleCare (whereby you pay Apple lots of money and in return they promise your product will work for a reasonable amount of time) got to leave their iPods with the rather grumpy and intractable lady for repair. Those who had not were given some address in Taiwan and told, "Apple don't actually manufacture them so it's nothing to do with us." When I finally got to the front of the queue, my conversation with the intractable lady ran something like this:

Me: "My toddler snapped off the power-lead-wire-thingy so that it's stuck inside the computer. I just need someone to remove it and to buy a new power lead."

Intractable lady: "You'll have to see one of the Apple geniuses."

Me: "Okay."

Intractable lady: "The first free appointment is at six o'clock."

Me: "Er. That's six hours away."

Intractable lady: "..."

Me: "Can't I just leave the iBook with you? It took me an hour to get here and I don't want to have to go back home and then come back again. I know exactly what's wrong. Somebody just needs to remove the wire that's stuck."

Intractable lady: "Our policy is that you have to see one of our Apple geniuses before you can leave any hardware with us."

Me: "In six hours time."

Intractable lady: "..."

Me: "But if I bring it in to an Apple genius, all he will say is that the wire is stuck in the computer and I need a new power lead. And then he'll keep it in for repair."

Intractable lady: "Probably."

Needless to say, I ended up going back six hours later to see an Apple "genius" (is it just me, or does anybody else have the urge to ask anyone calling themselves a "genius" if they've come up with a unifying theory for quantum mechanics and general relativity yet? Nope? Just me then). Who, nice as he was, told me that the wire was stuck and I needed a new power lead, and that I better leave it in for repair. (He also told me that I could have booked the appointment online without having gone in, which the guy I phoned the day before completely failed to inform me about. Grr.)

But what really got my goat through all of this was the cow-like calm on everybody's faces. (Did I mention the cow-like calm yet?) Why were there no Apple employees struggling with heads that had recently been inserted into cinema displays? I think it has to do with a curious form of double-think that they have mastered in-store. For whilst I was queuing up, turning lobster-red with anger and imagining swelling to the size of Chewbacca and running rampage through to the "dun-dun-derrrrn-dern" I've-just-got-angry-I-told-you-you-wouldn't-like-it score from the Incredible Hulk, there was some guy giving a talk about Apple products to a small audience. I don't know whether all Apple stores have the same set up, but at the Regent Street store they have a small auditorium area (well, a few rows of seats with a podium and screen at the front). Apple folk take it in turns to demonstrate to an audience of strays how to get more "productivity" from their Macs, and why Macs are so great. The audience generally consists of four distinct types: geeks who have got up at the crack of dawn especially to hike their PowerBooks down to the store just to learn how to choose more effective keywords for iPhoto; prospective customers or new Mac converts who have no idea even how to start the damn thing up; old folk from off the street who just fancy a sit down; and lost Scientologists. Now, I'm not sure how wise it is to situate your auditorium for showcasing "the power of the Mac" right next to a queue of angry customers with broken machines who have been waiting since Spring just to see a ruddy Apple "genius" (sorry, I physically can't type the word without the quotation marks), but it clearly didn't phase the younger-Steve-Jobs-lookalike giving the talk. Oh no, far from it. Throughout his talk, he continually pointed to the "Genius" Bar, stating that the "geniuses" were always on hand if you had any problem with your machine, and he looked right past the Russian-bread-queue-sized mob just trying to get to one of these "geniuses" without even the merest hint of embarrassment. Maybe it was this despite-overwhelming-evidence-to-the-contrary attitude that put me in mind of a relgion. Anyway. I wanted to jump up and down and scream "nooooooo!", much in the manner of Luke Skywalker finding out that the guy who just sliced off his hand is actually his dad. But of course, I didn't, because I wanted my iBook fixed.

Anyway, like I say, I don't get it. How can anyone pretend that Apple is anything other than a company that make some good computer stuff but have s**t customer service just like everybody else? But I will say that Apple do have some *fantastic* software engineers. They actually hang around the development support lists (the Apple cocoa-dev lists) and give support to developers who don't even have to pay to be there. I've had some first-class help from them in developing Scrivener. So don't get me wrong - I'm not slagging off Apple here. And let me reiterate: I love OS X. Love it, love it, love it. But Apple isn't a religion (and even if it were, I'm an atheist), it isn't a lifestyle; it's just a computer company. I think the writers of Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit? got it right:

Mac junkies
"Oh, Macs are just so much better than PCs. The operating system is about 12 times faster and they're just so much more efficient in, ooh... so many ways."
Are they? Are they really? And how the fuck would you know, when all you use it for is copying CDs and looking at porn? What you really mean is: "They look nice."
The Mac junkie will also crap on without end about how Microsoft is a big nasty corporation. No shit? And Apple's what then - a workers' co-op? No, it's a smaller nasty corporation - which uses child labour and beats its workers, whom it pays in beans, with sticks (possibly).
Do you know what Apple employees call company chief Steve Jobs? I'll tell you: Big Jobs. Or Shitty Jobby Job-head. And that's true. Okay, it's not.

That book made me laugh like a drain. I don't actually know how to laugh like a drain, but that is what I did.

As you can probably tell, I've been wanting to get that off my chest for a while.

(It's lucky this blog gets no hits, or I'd probably get some grief for this post. But then, if it got any hits, I wouldn't have had the guts to post it. Hello nobody and that spider-bot that left my one and only comment about some dating site! Come to think of it, I hope it was a spider-bot, and not a real person who thought I was so sad that I must be in need of a dating site...)

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Geek Joke of the Month

"There are only 10 kinds of programmers: those who know binary and those who don't."

I came across that in somebody's signature on a forum. I know it makes me an irredeemable geek to find that funny, but I do. I do, I do.