Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Macs, part 3: Podcasts, Customer Service, and Fingers

As I've posted before, I'm staying at a fancy hotel in the Boston area. Next to the hotel is a Mall, and in this mall is an Apple store. Again I tried using the display laptops. If you recall, the laptops have no mouse buttons (the entire pad is a button), which after a short use causes pain in the wrist. The answer I got regarding this issue from "mac people" was: My mac has a button, but I'm sure the no-button pad is just A-mazing, Steve Jobs is God and I am his servant!

So, this time I tried a new approach: I asked a customer service person at the Apple store for help.  The customer service rep didn't repeat the same "Apple is God" story I get from fanpeople (I guess they are trained to avoid it). Instead, he calmly explained to me another Mac gesture: Hold a finger on the pad while dragging another finger. I had to ask where I find those fingers. It turns out Apple hardware uses unique input devices called "fingers". The idea is that the trackpad somehow reacts differently to multiple input positions. It turns out this feature is required for basic functionality. Right-click is also supported with the Ctrl button, there is also a multi-finger gesture for that but I'm not sure what it is.

The next thing I tried to do is to replicate functionality I have on Linux on the mac machine. The functionality I decided to try was downloading and playing podcasts. I googled it and the search results pointed me to software called "GarageBand". I launched it from the dock and selected podcast. It opened a complicated screen with space for male and female voices (why do I have to tell it who's talking in the podcast?). I decided to try listening to Car Talk from NPR. I used the Safari browser to find the Car Talk podcast, and copied the URL. Then I had to right-click (with Ctrl) on a submenu that said Podcast (why do I have to select podcasts again?), the only option was "open in iTunes". I know iTunes is spamware for copying music to iPods under Windows but that was the only option. Anyway, the iTunes had an option to add a podcast under the Advanced menu (If that's advanced, what's the basic way?). I pasted the URL using SpecialAlt(⌘)-V and confirmed.

Now I could go back to GarageBand and after a few trails I could finally see the podcast there and drag it to the play area. I put it under "Male Voice" since the show is narrated by men.  The GarageBand software seems to be an audio editor like Audacity. I'm reminded of old Windows 3.11 WAV files were opened in sound recorder... Anyway, I clicked the play button and it played! seeking was pretty hard since it was extremely zoomed and there was no way of seeing the entire file in one screen.

I thought to myself there must be an easier way to do it. So I googled "mac podcast player" and found a program called Juice. I installed it, subscribed to Car Talk with the URL, and clicked on the play button. Well, it stated playing. In the background. With the same show of Car Talk still playing in GarageBand. All attempts to stop it didn't work. I even closed Juice entirely (with SuperAlt-Q, as the customer service guy explained) and still both podcasts were playing. It finally stopped after I SuperAlt(⌘)-Q'd all applications I could find (except GarageBand, and Finder, that wouldn't close).

Then, I decided to see if GarageBand can export to a mobile device. The whole idea of podcasts is to listen to them on the move! So, under the share menu there was something about Podcasts and iWeb. I clicked that, and the podcast stopped playing and moved to the start, forgetting my playback location. Good thing I remembered what it was and seeked back there manually (the export failed BTW).

After all those trials, an Apple guy finally approached me, and told me -- that the store is closing and I have to leave. I asked why is the GarageBand thing so complicated, and he said that I should use iTunes to play podcasts. He couldn't explain more since I had to leave.  That's all for now.

PS: I forgot to mention the fact that keyboard shortcuts don't work as expected, the Alt-F4 Expose settings screen for example, says that expose could work F9, F10, and F11. Instead, those buttons adjust the volume! It turns out the real shortcut is F3! But I found that out only after coming back to my room. Amazing documentation from Apple, yet again.

PPS: I even thought I'd buy one just to see how it works, but an Apple laptop costs over $7,000, and for that price it's only a 256GB hard drive. What is it made of? Solid Gold? And you still have to pay extra for backup hardware (yes, macs need special $500 hardware to enable backups). It seems like macs are the fancy hotels of the computer world -- anything you want to do costs extra.

PPPS: I suspect Apple puts addictive substances in their products. That's the only way I can explain why anyone who's purchased an Apple product seems to be in love with it. On a more serious note, I think the main driver for people loving Apple products in cognitive dissonance -- You don't want to admit to yourself you significantly overspent for a product that is no better than others, and since things aren't customizable, people convince themselves they like it that way.


  1. I think the main problem is that OSs such as Linux are designed from the perspective of the computer's structure. Things that are simple for the computer are easy to do, things that are complicated are complicated.
    Macs on the other hand are designed the other way around. The OS seems to make things that USERS want to do easy, while hiding a lot of the technical complexity. Therefore, it is tricky to figure out what each and every action does (since so much is happening in the background), but the end result happens to be what the user wanted it to be.
    The main problem with that is that you don't have a sense of ownership. If the computer does what Apple wants it to do, not what I want it to do. In what way is it my computer? Where's all the joy of tweaking and setting everything up to work just the way you want it?
    Apple advertises itself with the slogan "Think Different", however the core principle behind Apple products is that everyone has exactly the same thing. The same desktop, the same background, the same menus, and the same shortcuts. Why people buy iPods instead of radios when they all listen to the same music? I am reminded by a radio ad for an iPhone app that lets you listen to public radio. Why not get a radio?

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