List of Awesome

The following are some techy things that I currently think are, well, awesome. Either things that consistently put a smile on my face or just keep me regularly stimulated. (Note: the order is random.)


Marco Arment’s software product is actually a combination of a website, a bookmarklet and a stellar iPhone/iPad app. If you prefer to do your medium-form reading (e.g., news articles, blog posts) in a more controlled and focused manner this tool is definitely for you. For me it also acts as a general purpose cross-platform and cross-app bookmarking platform. For example when I’m reading Twitterrific on the iPhone and I see a link to something that I’d rather view on a bigger screen I simply add it to Instapaper. Similarly for NetNewsWire and probably many more mobile apps.

Daring Fireball

John Gruber’s professionally curated blog is my current favorite. It has a notable Apple focus but with plenty of general tech and hints of various other things that he finds interesting. You might think the somewhat scattered focus could make for a challenging daily read but the man has tastes that I (and likely many other readers) share.

Netflix & Blu-ray

This combo delivers 95% of my movie watching right now and although I don’t watch as many as I’d like, movies are easily one of my favorite ways to relax. The Netflix plan with 3 discs at a time seems about the right number for us right now so we haven’t really needed to delve into the streaming aspect of Netflix. Blu-ray on a big HDTV is absolutely awesome and can even make a lousy film enjoyable (e.g., if the cinematography is worthy even though the dialogue or plot sorta stinks.)


This front-end web development technology is very powerful and surprisingly revolutionary. jQuery’s an add-on library developed by John Resig that extends the power of the web browser’s scripting language (Javascript) and data model (HTML DOM). Rarely is a library met with such enthusiasm by the web developer community. The programming style (use of CSS-style selectors) takes a bit of getting used to but results in no looking back.

iPhone & iPad

Few would not admit that Apple is at the top of their game and these two products are their flagships. From the (controlled) leaks, to the product keynotes, to the release day shipping and beyond, these are easily the most exciting and dramatic consumer technologies available right now. When I started building this list, the iPad was a new acquisition and I wasn’t sure how much I’d love it. Well, I absolutely do — it simply feels great to use and is amazingly conducive to casual computing.


I must admit that for random, bite-sized reading entertainment and discovery Twitter is outstanding — once you put some work into figuring out exactly who to follow. My preferred twitter client is IconFactory’s Twitterrific for the iPhone. I love this app because it: a) Saves exactly where I was reading last, b) has a beautiful dark theme optimized for reading in low light, and c) integrates with Instapaper. I consider these all essential. I use the free version that has ads, not because I don’t want to shell out (I’ve paid for MANY worthy iPhone OS apps) but because I find the ads (provided by The Deck) interesting and not intrusive.


There are a few shows that I like (e.g., The Office, Community) and Hulu, hooked up to the TV by way of MacBook, definitely does the trick. I love the Hulu app (Mac/PC) which has a streamlined interface that remembers your video quality preference and works wonderfully with an Apple Remote.

Amazon Fresh

Currently a Seattle only thing but oh, how awesome home delivered groceries are.

My iPhone’s Getting Blue

I am eagerly anticipating a new iPhone 3G S (and OS 3.0) later this week as I write this post on my still excellent first generation iPhone. I am brewing a separate post about mobile phones but I wanted to share a brief observation: most of my favorite apps have blue icons.

A few blue apps worth mentioning:

WordPress – using it to tap out this post in bed right now

Pandora – plug into your stereo and be amazed!

Twitterific – an excellent, powerful Twitter client

Shazam – great accuracy at identifying songs playing around you (I’ve discovered neat stuff on the radio with this one!)

Google – voice search can be super fast and easy. Trying to train myself to use it more.

Backups. The right way.


AirPort photo via Engadget

Last week the inevitable happened: my backup drive failed. I took it as an opportunity to set things up right. (Note: I firmly believe in also backing up to the cloud but only for DR purposes.)

My existing backup solution was a WD 500GB MyBook attached to an old (unsightly) desktop. The box ran XP and was configured to “wake on lan” and then hibernate after a couple hours. Not bad but there was a glaring usability problem: backups were manual. (This setup cannot support Time Machine’s automated backups on the Mac and the wake-on-lan required a manual step for all backups.)

What’s my new ‘proper’ solution? Two new pieces of hardware: the Iomega Prestige 1TB ($100) to replace my dead MyBook and an AirPort Extreme router ($180). Yes, a single Time Capsule gets the same result but it’s a much worse choice since it’s over $200 more and less future proof (for upgrades or disk failures). Update 7/31: Apple just cut their TC prices to be much more in line with my preferred option — but I still wouldn’t get one for the other reason.

$100 for a TB!

The Iomega arrived the next day from Amazon and I first set it up with 2 partitions: NTFS and Mac OS Extended (Journaled) to support Time Machine. Worked like a charm but the physical cabling to each laptop for each backup would get anoying fast.

That’s where the AirPort Extreme comes in to save the day (4 days later via the Apple Store online). This router replaces my very trusty Linksys WRT-g and features nice performance improvements of wireless-n and dual band support. But the killer feature is the Airport Disk sharing — simply plug in any USB drive and access it from any host on your network!

A surprising bonus of this setup is that the ‘airdisk’ works on Windows too and it even provides a Fat32 proxy to the Mac file system. Once I noticed that, I repartitioned the Iomega as a 1TB Mac partition that’s shared between my OS X and Windows hosts (while those last around here!)

Now I can finally say goodbye to manual backups (and hello time machine). Plus, I can retire the last standing clunky desktop mini tower in my home. Oh how ubiquitous they once were.

…and onto the Mac


At work, we have a program in place which lets employees swap their PC laptops in for MacBooks. A couple weeks ago my number was called and since I’ve been getting a bit fed up with my primary computer, a now sluggish 3 year old Dell, I decided to take the plunge. (Hardware wise the Dell is fine — the slow and steady software rot of Windows is mostly to blame). Needless to say, drastically changing one’s primary computer is a pretty big deal for most people, let alone a software professional.

This isn’t quite my first foray into the world of the Mac. For over a year I’ve been administering my team’s Mac Mini as part of our browser test lab and last Christmas I got my wife a sweet Mac Air which she loves and I’ve helped her learn to get around on. But this is the first time that I’ve made my primary computer a Mac and so far I’m digging it. (It probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve been a mega iPhone fan for more than a year.)

For the longest time I’ve been decidedly anti-Macintosh and pro Win/PC. My how the tides have turned! Growing up, my first 6 computers were all DOS and Windows based PCs. Windows 3.x,  Win95 and DOS will always have a special place in my thoughts and I strongly admire Microsoft for what they have done for the entire computing industry. But as software technology keeps moving online (into the cloud) it feels like Microsoft is constantly playing catch up. Their massively critical flops like Vista and the Zune are now just barely offset by productivity stalwarts Excel and Word. But even these are being threatened by the likes of Google Docs, iWork and OpenOffice. For the sake of competition, let’s hope that Windows 7 helps them gain back some of their former glory. 

My first experience with Macs (not counting the green screened one from grade school daycare) was in first year Computer Science at University of Waterloo.  The funky iMacs in the “Mac Lab” were what the Mathematics frosh (aka freshmen) were supposed to use.  I used them a few times but quickly learned to stay away and entered that lab only to print — those machines seemed awful to me. I much preferred to “work from dorm” on my own PC and either use my Linux partition (Slackware!) or telnet into the Unix machines on campus. Much better.

So, how did they make ’em good?

Apple, under returning CEO Steve Jobs, did two critical things to make Macintosh computers as desirable for computing professionals as they are today: OS X and Intel based hardware. 

The Macintosh Operating System 10  has Darwin at it’s heart, an open source UNIX kernel. In my experience all good programmers will tell you that a UNIX OS is technically the best you can get. It has extreme stability, great performance and the best powerful command line interface. OS X also had the Aqua interface which added scalable graphics, anti-aliasing, transparency, shadows and animation. And they weren’t shy with these UI features.   

Moving to Intel CPUs in 2006 was also an excellent move because of the great success and market penetration of the X86 architecture. This means one can easily run Linux binaries on their Mac or dual boot to Windows or another Intel compatible OS.  It’s hard to disagree that Intel simply makes the best, fastest, affordable chips of this day and age. This is what tipped the scales for me.

The other thing that’s hard not to love about the Mac is the premium hardware. Things like magsafe (the power cord uses a magnet to pop in and out with ease and safety if you trip over it), a nice un-brick-like power brick, fantastic LCD monitors and great keyboard keys really are worth the extra cost and show an attention to detail that most hardware manufacturers just don’t “waste” money on developing.

The trackpad and its gesture support is another thing Apple’s focus has nicely paid off on. Once you start using two finger scroll, and two finger tap (for context menus), you’ll realize the mouse isn’t quite as vital as you once thought.  

Keyboard Junky

For me, the toughest thing by far on making the switch from PC to Mac is my dependency on the keyboard. Macs were really designed for the (one button!?) mouse. Lately Apple has been getting better at keyboard support and they were very smart for making Alt-Tab just work (Cmd-Tab switches apps like just like Windows) since that’s probably the most hard-wired keyboard command for all Windows users.

My biggest annoyance is the loss of Home, End, Page up and Page down keys. To get these key functionalities you will need to use a two key combo (e.g., Cmd+Left arrow instead of Home or Fn+Up instead of Page up). This is bad because not only do you need two hands but they differ slightly between apps!  I also dislike how Cmd+Left and Cmd+Right is overloaded in the browser to mean Home or End if you’re in a text area and back or forward browse if you’re not. Too much thinking is required… I find I’m reaching for the mouse or trackpad more often which simply slows me down.

I also wish one could navigate dialogs using accelerators like in Windows. Some apps have this built in using Option + letter keys but this doesn’t work if the dialog has a text box focussed upon load since Option + letters is also used for extended character typing. 

On the plus side, I much prefer using my thumb for hotkeys since Cmd (where Alt is on a PC) is the main hotkey initiator. That key placement feels far more natural than using Ctrl with my pinky (which is the initiator for most hotkey commands on a Windows PC). It’s kind of interesting that on Windows, the Alt key is now almost forgotten which is sad given it’s prominent position on the PC keyboard.

Third Party Apps

my menubar

The built in apps for OS X are nice but everyone knows you need extra software to get real work done.

IntelliJ by JetBrains is my IDE of choice. I love its HTML/XML/JSP editing capabilities (which Eclipse just can’t seem to get right) as well as its built in support for Tomcat and Maven. It works on the Mac just as it does on Windows which is also great.

For text editing I’ve been impressed with open-source Smultron. I’m not using it for code editing but as a scratch-pad it’s working out nicely. (And of course, it doesn’t do everything that metapad can, but I’m sure it does stuff that metapad cannot ;)

The Butler app was something I discovered to solve a particular problem: make F2 edit a cell in Microsoft Excel. Butler allows you to set up hotkey interceptors for specific Apps. It also does a bunch of other stuff that seems cool, like a clipboard storage menu but I haven’t delved into much else yet.  

For a shell terminal, iTerm is nicer and far more customizable than the built in Terminal app. And I’m using iStat Menus (pictured above) to monitor memory and CPU. 

I’ve been rather dissapointed with Microsoft’s Office suite on the Mac as well as Adobe Fireworks CS4. Mac Office is not nearly as full featured or customizable as the Windows versions and, yes, Entourage sucks way more than Outlook. Fireworks could be great but somehow Adobe forgot to test Fireworks CS4 on the Mac. Shame on them.

Eight Unexpected Best (Rental) Movies

For curiosity’s sake I recently reviewed my full history on Netflix.

I’ve always been a big fan of Netflix and have been a member for a good while, placing my first rental, The Sting, on 3/28/2003. I haven’t watched a ton of movies or series (271 total discs in 6 years) but I am proud to admit that Netflix provides me and my wife with, by far, the bulk of our sit-and-watch-and-zone-out-as-necessary entertainment (the only other regular sources being The Office on Hulu, Seahawks games on TV and the rare theater movie). 

As I scanned my history only 8 movies (not including Anime or mini/TV series) jumped out as tried and true 5 star-ers, the “loved it” rating. (There were a few that I had once rated as fives but I decided to bump them down to fours — I guess it’s like periodically rebalancing your portfolio.)

Please note that this list isn’t my complete favorite movie list, just some favorites that I discovered thanks to my Netflix subscription. 



An excellent buddy movie — a great cast with a cool plot. Ed Harris directs himself and Viggo (at his best) as two bad-ass guns for hire. All the characters are interesting and complex, even the female lead played by Renee Zellweger. My wife generally does not enjoy violent films but this one she liked; the violence is not for violence’s sake. I absolutely loved the ending.



Michael Clayton

This is a gripping story with great acting by Cloony — he still plays himself but he does it very well.  I really enjoyed the direction by Tony Gilroy and the supporting cast is amazing. I watched this twice when I got it.




I’ve always been a big fan of dramatized historical movies, especially ones about the british monarchy. This one is about the ultimate transformation of a queen and I found it fascinating. Geoffrey Rush plays an amazing  Sir Francis Walsingham, the queen’s dubious advisor.



The Good Shepherd

This film surprised me as I am really not a Matt Damon or Angelina Jolie fan. But do love a great spy story and this one has it all, telling the story of the birth of the CIA. 




Director Rian Johnson’s debut blew me away. It’s a fast paced, super stylized sleuth picture. I’m generally not a mystery fan but the atypical and dark high-school setting drew me in quickly.  Another twice-watcher for me.



Layer Cake

Daniel Craig, pre-007, stars in this very cool british gangster movie. I enjoyed this more than Lock-Stock and Snatch.




My favorite Korean flick, the third, and by far the best, in a pseudo-trilogy by director Chan-wook Park. Start with Oldboy, and don’t bother with the other two unless you’re truly interested afterward. This one does happen to be ultra-violent at times so take heed. This film has Matrix-like elements.



L.A. Confidential

Okay, this one’s kinda cheating since I had seen it before I netflixed it. But I was surprised at how much I enjoyed watching it again. Amazing work by an amazing cast.