Monday, Oddly Enough

Those of you with a modicum of interest in my health will be (hopefully) happy to know that according to my doctor I am OK, although I will be poked and prodded during the next few weeks to see whether that extends to my inner (physical) being.

There will be a "guard period" of a few months to make absolutely sure my little incident was merely due to too much stress coupled with a potassium imbalance, but otherwise there will be no impairment on my abilities (and work) other than a bit more care and stricter working hours (which means I will probably sleep more in the next few months than last year).

Regarding this, there was an amusing little incident a few days ago that I forgot to mention: Some two-bit US law firm got hold of my e-mail and asked me whether I required legal counsel regarding "a possible suit regarding decreased quality of life" or some such nonsense. Among their drivel, they cautioned me against "publicly writing regarding (my) health, to safeguard (my) interests".

I wrote back asking if they knew where Portugal was (with a side note mentioning that we're united, sure, but with Europe), and if they were the legal geniuses behind the second EA suit. I never heard back from them.

Apparently, lawyers and basic geography don't mix. Or maybe the newest thing is paying paralegals to loaf around in the Internet trying to drum up business.

On Books

Anyway, talking about loafing around - what is it about Amazon UK and their shipping dates? I went to great pains to pick out books that explicitly said "usually dispatched within 24 hours", ordered Eur. 250 of those, and now the dispatch estimate is two weeks from now - there goes the idea of reading them while on vacation (then again, I'll probably re-schedule my vacation, but that isn't the point).

Oh well. Back to Bill Bryson. I'm picking up Neither here Nor there as soon as I finish a tecnhical tome I started on Saturday (which may be a while - it's big), and will probably drop a few notes on it when I'm finished.

Mac Stuff

Looks like my .Mac piece (which, incidentally, had been brewing since before I went to the hospital) has been getting some attention. Unfortunately, it was Michael who had to get the Zealots off the grass this time - actually, I just did too, although the IP address involved was depressingly familiar.

Again, just to make things clear, I don't write about what I don't like in Apple's products out of spite - I do it in the (perhaps mistaken) belief that one has to see things as they are, and have the courage to chuck out the rose-tinted glasses and go beyond pointing out what is wrong - you have to be able to explain why it is wrong, and precisely where it breaks, in a way most people will understand.

People who had to do project post mortems, strategy analysis and plain and simple business consulting will know that the hardest thing to do to any customer is to say that they have been doing things wrong for the past three years - and, more than explain how they could improve, make it obvious that they need to.

Sure, some consultancies have turned that into a black art (complete with implicit dissing of their competition), but the crux of the matter is that you have to make sense. You have to communicate things as they are, not sugar coat rusty nails.

Which is kind of the point of this whole site.

Sadly, people will attack anything (and anyone) they don't agree with just for the sheer spite of it, which is why I sometimes wonder why I bother having comments.


Anyway, more on what it's like to be a Mac user these days in my neck of the woods: With heat creeping above 35C, my personal pendulum is swinging back towards my getting a MacBook in a few months, since my iBook had another little fit - it's working OK now, but I have a feeling I'll be needing to replace it (even if only because a G3/800 is unlikely to be able to officially run Leopard).

I've been seriously considering getting a MacBook Pro due to the improvements in the new logic boards that people have been reporting (and I've got enough put aside to reach for a 15"), but unless I can confirm that the new ones run cool enough in "web surfing" mode to rest upon my bare skin (no dirty thoughts, please, it's just that I like to wear shorts around the house), I'd rather take my chances with polycarbonate.

Merom (which was another reason to wait) seems to be getting delayed, and I don't realistically believe Apple will be refreshing their designs with it before Xmas.

In a simpler world, it would all boil down to whether my trusty old iBook would last me until Xmas or not. In case you don't realize, I'm considering ordering in a couple of months to make sure I get it before Xmas. Great, huh?

In real life, I'd hate to be without a Mac laptop even for a week (despite my rants, the Mac is the only platform I consider truly usable and worth my time), but it's tricky to estimate this kind of thing - if the iBook dies, I'll have to wait weeks to get the configuration I want. On the other hand, ordering in advance is a bit pointless considering that later MacBook models are likely to have less issues.

Just to add a little spice to things, I'm tempted to go BTO and try out the Portuguese online store, which adds an unknown factor to the equation - by the time I decide to take the plunge, I hope a matte screen option for the MacBook is on the cards. It's not likely since Apple probably commissioned a gazillion 13" glossy displays at a good price, but one can only hope.

Software and GTD

I've been having some fun with the MailTags 2.0 beta - and it with me, since my gargantuan IMAP archive seemed to cause Beta 6 to overreach itself a bit. Beta 7 is a marked improvement, though, and Scott is very responsive to bug reports. It's sure to be a great addition to any power user's arsenal once it's done (and I'll be lobbying for cross-platform tagging support in IMAP whenever I can).

But the best thing I've seen in my RSS feeds all day is (via Tim Gaden) the ReMail project's thread arcs, which, as it happens, stemmed from some visualization experiments I had followed back in my CSCW days.

I wholeheartedly recommend grabbing the PDFs and reading them at your leisure, but for the folk in a hurry, here's the relevant image on Tim's site, which kind of speaks for itself:

I think the concept is absolutely brilliant - it's a perfect representation of conversation flow in time, complete with easy visual reference of the points at which you intervened (hollow circles) and the amount of discussion (loops) that took place. Like Sparklines, it packs a lot of information in relatively little room, and not only provides an excellent "feel" for how the conversation is going but also appeals to our aesthetic sense.

It would be very interesting to see this as a plugin of some sort, although IBM is sure to have patented it six ways from Sunday right now.

Update: As Scott Morrison pointed out in the comments, already implements Thread Arcs - which means there is usable code out there already....

And I guess that's it. Outside, rumors of talking iPods roam the digital causeways, but I don't mind.