Charles Moore's Mailbag

iOS and the Humna-Humna of the Internet, Lion Forcing the iPad Model on the Mac, and More

Charles Moore - 2011.08.01 - Tip Jar

iOS Skeptics and the Humna-Humna of the Internet

From Michael:

It's nice to hear someone sort of famous like you failing to gush over the iPad.

I find it heavy and impossible to type on. Also, I get very grumpy when I see crappy iOS ports of open source software being sold in the App Store. Now I have never been a big fan of buying software, something which instantly becomes worthless upon purchase, but I have never bought a single App, and I challenge all iPad/Mac users out there to stop buying Apps and boycott [OS X 10.7] Lion. Most of the passive media consumption activities it is supposed to be so good for can be carried out using only free/preinstalled stuff.

It's also great to hear you criticizing it for its many limitations and the glaring but largely unsolved problem of no good text input method. Pipe dream: With a screen that big, Newton-style handwriting recognition just might be tolerable. How about it taking dictation?

Anyway, will this device reshape the Internet, molding it into a passive, hypno-toad medium like television, by discouraging users from interacting meaningfully - usenet discussions were interesting, Twitter/Facebook is just the humna-humna* chittering of self-involved monkeys - and discouraging the creation of (or even tinkering with) anything? N.B. that I'm not talking conspiracy here, but the emergent lowest common denominator: a giant community network which once aspired to Encyclopedia Galactica slowly decaying into the home shopping network. Why is it decaying? I don't know.

Most ominous is the App Store's invasion of the desktop OS. I remember many of my redneck neighbors glued to the TV with a telephone on their laps in the 1980s cable TV home shopping era. (I'm a also a redneck, so no disrespect intended.) Old people addicted to buying useless junk somehow reminds me of gambling addicts. (I believe this insipid outlet of faux lladro and cubic zirconium may have originated close to what's left of my home town in West Central Florida, but that is another rant for another time.)

I still like to use the command line and good old fashioned shell scripts. I'm a big fan of macports, fink, and X11. I'm getting a sinking feeling that these open source wonders will be shut out of the walled Apple garden (orchard?) of the App Store. (Or assimilated and offered as apps, even though the developers intended them to be free and open.) Perhaps the end will begin with a Microsoft-style FUD campaign: all that did not come from the App Store will be a "security risk" and one will have to jailbreak the latest Book (I'm thinking they'll drop the "Mac" for the new model names.) One's computer will become a kind of Home Shopping Channel (App Store), from which there will be no easy escape. It might even violate the nebulous terms of the incomprehensible 55-page EULA you had to agree to.

I'm hoping this message is just one of a flood of "underwhelmed/depressed by iPad" emails in your box. But I have a nagging feeling that you probably got about 4. Maybe you could do a survey? Just in case there are more out there.

*The Humna-humna are bureaucratically-obsessed onomatopoeically-named aliens from the 80s PC space trading game StarFlight II. Think of them as less belligerent Vogons.

Hi Michael,

Sort of famous? I'm flattered. ;-) I've also been called a redneck and even referred to myself as one occasionally.

I've had both Facebook and Twitter accounts for a couple of years now and have never done a thing with either. I don't know where people find the time.

I hear you, although I hope you're a bit overly pessimistic about the future of Apple computing. You may not be, though. I just learned yesterday that Lion doesn't support Apple's USB modem, which is a deal-breaker for me unless there's a workaround. It's rumored that some third-party dialup/fax modems will work, but I haven't been able to confirm that.

"Magic?" My magic epiphany was my first encounters with Macintosh System 6 nineteen years ago, which came as a revelation compared to the menu-driven word processor I'd been using. A another supplemental magic moment followed four years later when I got my first PowerBook. Compared to those magical revelations, my iPad is a distant also-ran.

Different strokes for different folks, and everything would be hunky-dory were it not for Apple's full-court press to "iOS-ify" OS X while concurrently ushering us to its iCloud a few weeks hence. Actually iCloud is present reality with the ascendancy of the Mac App Store, and landscape-altering changes like the download-only OS X 10.7 Lion install. It may be the Post-PC Era for Steve Jobs and Apple and legions of iPad/iPhone fans, but it's not for me - even if that ultimately means switching to Linux, or even Windows if the latter doesn't go touchscreen gesture-loopy too with Windows 8.

I'm also, like you, nonplused by the whole App Store phenomenon, and text entry/editing/manipulation on the iPad is unbelievably lame. However, I am happy to report that dictation is one of the best-news iPad stories I can relate, thanks to Nuance's amazing (and free) Dragon Dictation app/service. Here's a link to a recent full review of mine.

I agree: "lowest common denominator" computing will make for a bleak future and probably the end of Mac computing as we know it.


Tablets for Those Who Don't 'Get' Computers

From Lloyd:

Hello, Charles

I read your summary of the Tech Republic story about tablets vs. computers with interest. Your analysis, as well as that of the author of the article, brought to mind the "car vs. truck computing" discussion you had with your readers a while ago. Using a tablet like it's a truck is like using an El Camino, a Chevy car body with a cargo area not unlike a truck's, for truck work. Disappointment is bound to result for any serious business user of trucks; they need the GMC "professional grade" truck, but a truck lookalike.

However, for those who don't "get" computers or who just hate them, a light-duty tablet makes sense, and we are in an age of de-skilling computer developments that make everything "magic" and which require none of the skill (and fortitude) that it takes to, say, fix a car broken down in western Canada in the dark, their market share will doubtless continue to grow, perhaps at the expense of computers, as applications are developed that mimic what power users do with their "truck computers" at present.


Hi Lloyd,

1973 Ford Ranchero in the snowNice analysis, and I love the El Camino vs. GMC "Professional Grade" analogy. A company I worked for back in the '70s had a '73 Ford Ranchero that I drove quite a bit. A miserable excuse for a truck, and it only got about 9 miles per Imperial gallon (351 CID V8 with primitive emissions control), although I did end up doing a rings and rod bearings partial rebuild of an Austin 1800 engine using its bed as a mobile workshop one weekend. This is the only shot I have of it, taken on a Christmas tree cutting excursion with my wife and a friend, circa December, 1974.

As you say, the sort of use one applies it to will determine one's level of satisfaction with the iPad, although I find it has some shortcomings even for tasks to which it's reasonably well-suited.

It's a decent casual web-surfing tool, provided you don't need to quickly and efficiently copy blocks of text or images or want to watch a Flash video and can live without keyboard shortcuts and advanced settings configurations. It's a handy email checker as well, although I don't especially like the bundled iOS version of Apple's Mail app. However, for composing and answering email, not so much, at least if you're going to write more than a few sentences, in which case the iPad's online keyboard becomes a formidable roadblock to speed and efficiency.

The iPad is definitely a lot more comfortable to use in bed or when lounging on a sofa than a laptop.


Lion: Apple Forcing the iPad Model on Mac Users

From Alex:

Praise God, the 2011 13.3" MacBook Pro model with Snow Leopard reinstall CDs should be a much better iPad control computer for that super-duper iPad 2 (hey, dual-core CPU and graphics make my iPad seem like a giant iPod touch, but in my case a twice as powerful giant iPod touch, since my iPod touch is a 2G model with only a 533 MHz CPU and 128 MB RAM).

I don't get why Apple wants to force the iPad model of computing on us full-blown Intel Mac users, especially ever since 2006 all the way up to the iPad's unveiling the Mac was supposed to be the be all and end all of computers. The iPhone, until the iPhone 4, was just supposed to be a pocket extension of your Mac. I miss those days, and wish Apple just didn't get to change their minds at the drop of a hat.

MobileMe is so much better than iCloud it makes me cry, and I am not going to say good-bye to MobileMe until my subscription runs out on June 15th, 2012. And then I am going to give up on cloud computing, since no one does it like MobileMe does it, not even iCloud (definitely not, as Lion won't work for what I need it for). How much more can us old time Mac fans (from the Compact Mac with 8 MHz MC68000 CPU days) stand for Steve Jobs to eviscerate the Mac in order to get ever increasing profits? I know those were his marching orders, but perhaps he's carrying them out too literally.

Kindest regards,

Hi Alex,

No software reinstall media with the Mid 2011 Core "i" MacBook Airs at all, alas (with the Late 2010 model they come with reinstall software on a flash drive), but they're a lot more computer than any iPad for not much more money, at least comparing the high-end iPads with the entry-level 11" MacBook Air. Even closer if you go for a refurb Air.

I'm definitely not a happy camper with the iOS-ifying of OS X. This may be a moot point for me, as I just discovered that OS X 10.7 Lion doesn't support Apple's USB modem, and living where I do, modem dial-up support is a non-optional backup necessity for fairly frequent broadband outages. One of those a couple of months back lasted five days, and I would have been up you-know-what creek without a paddle if I hadn't been unable to log on to good old reliable dial-up.

I've never been a MobileMe user, so at least won't miss that.

I'm going to keep my powder dry about commenting on iCloud until it's up and running. I love Dropbox , which almost effortlessly keeps work-in-progress synced among my three production laptops and the iPad.


The Onscreen Keyboard and a Disappointing Change in iOS 5

From Alex:

The onscreen keyboard works great for those who hunt and peck. For an incredibly skilled touch typist like you, the keyboard is indeed necessary, but for me, who only had experience with Type to Learn (a program I found most horrible), I didn't learn to type. For hunting and pecking, the keyboard can even write three 8-1/2 x 11" equivalent pages in the Notes application, and the only thing that grows tired is my arm.

I like how iOS 3 and 4 on the iPhone and iPad call their music apps "iPod". That, to me, is a perk for buying a device with a higher profit margin than the iPod touch even. Yet Apple is going to take that away if I upgrade my iPad to iOS 5, and so, just like my Macs being unable to upgrade to Lion due to Apple wanting to replace what works with stuff that doesn't, I won't be upgrading my iPad to iOS 5, unlike you as well as Dan Knight and his wife with their iPhone 3GS units, because, fortunately, I don't have to jump whenever Apple cracks the whip on my back.


Hi Alex,

Actually I'm not "a highly-skilled touch typist." Over the years I've developed a sort of intuitive typing mode that's more than hunt and peck but well short of touch. I can manage about 50 wpm for short bursts. Definitely a lot slower on the iPad virtual keyboard, though, where it is indeed more hunt-and-peck, and my arms get sore fast.

Bummer about the iPod music app in iOS 5. I hadn't been aware. As you say, it's a cool feature in iOS 4. What will they have in its place?


Publisher's note: The iPod app will be replaced with separate Music and Video apps in iOS 5. dk

Pentax Optio and Batteries

From Ian after reading Pentax Optio E90 Well Built, Takes Great Photos, and a Real Bargain:

Hello Charles,

I am a long time user of an Optio camera. I started with the original Pentax Optio S, for which I paid nearly £350, but it did have a 3 MP sensor. I went mad and splashed out on a massive 256 MB SD card. It took superb macro photos and was pretty good at all the rest, except for a somewhat limited flash range.

After a number of years of service and accidental physical abuse, it failed. I replaced it with a larger Panasonic, because I could not resist the wide range telephoto, and my wife found the controls on the Optio S too small. However, I found myself hankering for the pocketable Pentax. Amazon to the rescue, and £40 bought me a secondhand Pentax Optio S5i, the same overall size as the Optio S but bigger controls and LCD. If I know I am going out to take photos, I will take the Panasonic, but if I only might take photos, the Pentax gets chosen. My choice may also be determined by my wife taking the Pentax, now that the controls are big enough.

Now to batteries. The Pentax Optio S and S5i both take the same Lithium-ion battery, not much more than a fat postage stamp. They are good for hundreds of photos and cost virtually nothing to recharge. I bought a spare and just swap batteries when one goes flat. It is no hardship to slip the tiny spare into my back pocket, and as a result I have never been without a good battery. There also seems to be a good market in batteries at much lower prices than Pentax (or Panasonic) charge.

Anyway, I hope your wife enjoys her Pentax as much as I have mine. I am sure she will.


Hi Ian,

Thanks for the commentary and Optio lore. My Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W330 uses a wafer battery that performs similarly to you describe. Carrying a spare battery is of course ideal, but the Lithium-ion Sony NP-BN1 battery sells for $50 to $60 - roughly one-third of the camera's list price, and more like half as much as some street prices. Seems like a lot, although, as you, say it's probably possible to find third-party alternatives to the Sony-branded Still a AA fan!

So far, my wife loves the Optio E90.


Cheap 'Beater' Mac Laptops

From Lloyd:

Dear Charles:

Thanks for some thought-provoking observations on cheap, mobile computing. I share your concern about leaving a new Mac on a coffee shop table, even for a minute, as status symbol items attract thieves in the best of times, and more so perhaps in periods of extended economic decline. (Of course, a smart thief would want the data more than the hardware, as ID theft yields more profit than a trip to the pawn shop or a quick score on Craigslist.) Aside from security concerns, the potential for loss from pets, accidents - think spilled coffee - et cetera, make using a high-value Mac in a mobile environment problematic.

In a previous exchange, I mentioned having picked up a $1 (plus shipping) WallStreet. It's fully functional and opens student .docx files, thanks to Panergy's docXConverter program (which also opens .xlsx files, as well). WiFi with a Dell TruMobile 1150 card is fast enough, and SweetMail or Outlook 5.2 handle email tasks. The Classilla browser is still under development, and it serves for most web tasks. Thus I can live for fairly extended periods (3+ hours with a battery purchased on eBay) in an OS 9.2.2 environment on a computer that has enough scuffs and scratches to qualify as a bit of an ugly duckling, and which weighs enough to be a bit harder to purloin than it's lighter, newer cousins.

For a total investment of about $90, I have a beater Mac. Admittedly, many of your readers will have needs that go beyond what a project like this can accomplish, but inexpensive, useful computing is in the eye of the user. As you point out, it's more about finding the right bargain than it is about securing a specific model. (I'd have been just as happy, for example, with a Clamshell iBook that got away for $35 (shipped), in another eBay auction.)

In closing, I appreciate your analogy, as well as your advice. Your choice might be the equivalent of a 1992 Honda Civic and mine might be a Plymouth Volare with a Slant Six, but they both serve us in the same way - basic transportation on the rougher patches of the Information Superhighway.


Hi Lloyd,

Thanks for the comments. Glad to hear that old WallStreet is working out for you. Heavy rig to lug around, but it's rugged. My Pismos are a bit easier on the arms.

Our actual current beater car is a 1991 Toyota Corolla that we picked up for $300, although we spent about $400 more and a fair bit of elbow-grease getting it ready for motor vehicle inspection. My wife used it as her daily driver all last winter and it never missed a beat. Probably has another winter in it.


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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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