Back to the Mac. (Sfx: sigh of relief)

My laptop has been in the shop because it couldn’t connect to wireless networks with any sort of consistency. It wasn’t preventing me from doing my work, but considering I have surgery next week and my AppleCare expires in two months, I figured now was the time. So for a week now, I’ve been using Linux as my desktop. I’m extremely glad to be back to the Mac.

But not really because of anything wrong with Linux. As soon as I started using the desktop on the Linux box, it told me I should upgrade from Ubuntu 8.04 LTS to Ubuntu 10.4 LTS, which was time consuming, but afterwards a persistent problem I’d had booting any kernel newer than the one I’d installed it with went away, and it recognized my Wacom Bamboo which it hadn’t before. I had to struggle a bit to get my VPN set up, and it was a struggle to get it to treat the “Caps Lock” key as a control key. And because my Linux box is a server, I’d originally set it up with XFCE4 instead of KDE or Gnome, so it wasn’t as functional and beautiful as it could have been.

No, the real reasons I was glad to be back on the Mac are because:

  • The Linux box doesn’t have speakers or a microphone, so I had to set up Skype on a netbook, which made for fun when somebody sent me a file or a url.
  • The cut and paste functionality is quite different in Linux, and required some getting used to. It wasn’t very consistent between apps.
  • The RDC client I was using on Linux didn’t translate the local printer so that it appeared as my default printer on my Windows session like the Mac RDC client does.
  • I couldn’t figure out how to switch desktops with a keystroke, especially not when I was RDC’ed into work.
  • Without my Mac, I couldn’t listen to my podcasts, and I couldn’t pay bills.
  • Most importantly: because my laptop has a 17″ 1920×1280 screen, and I also plug it into this 20″ 1080i screen, but with the laptop gone I only had the one screen to use for Linux, I felt very hemmed in.

So I’m glad to be back. But I’m having to retrain my fingers for cutting and pasting with Command instead of Control.

That was an unexpected bonus

Vicki and I are refinancing our house. Mostly this is to get a shorter time period, but also to reduce the interest a bit. We kind of dithered about this and missed the best rates, but the one we got isn’t too bad. That’s not what I’m writing about here though.

Because the 2009 tax year was a little light (because I spent some time unemployed and some time working for peanuts), I dug out both our 2008 and 2009 tax files. And while I was flipping through them, something caught my eye: an amount on the 2008 tax form that said something like “Capital loss carried forward to 2009”. Oh oh, I don’t remember carrying forward any amount. Sure enough, I couldn’t find any mention of it on the 2009 tax form. I also couldn’t remember where this capital loss had come from.

I looked back, and discovered it had to do with the sale of Vicki’s mom’s house back in 2006. I’d been using TurboTax in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and it had carried it forward without my even noticing it. (When you have a large capital loss, you can only claim $3,000 each year and carry the rest forward.) But for 2009, I’d switched to H and R Block on-line for reasons I don’t remember. And because I’d forgotten about the carry forward, I hadn’t applied it.

So today I downloaded the 1040X and IT-201X amended tax forms, and filled them all in manually because H and R Block on-line doesn’t give you any way to go back to last year’s return and amend it. (Something which you can do with TurboTax, I happen to know, because I amended the 2006 return using it.) I filled out all the forms and it turns out we’re due a nice little chunk of change. So that’s a nice little surprise consequence of our refinancing efforts.

One side note: both the IRS and New York State provide handy downloadable PDFs that you can edit and print. But for some bizarre reason that I can’t fathom, the IRS one can be saved but the New York one can’t. Can somebody explain what was the logic behind not allowing you to save?

Today’s discovery about Google Chrome

If you use Google Chrome as your web browser, right click on the address bar, and choose “Edit Search Engines”. You’ll discover that every web site you’ve ever been to with a search box, including this blog, installed as a “Search Engine”. And you can search that site by typing the domain name (like followed by a space followed by your search terms. (I haven’t tested to see if “Clear Browsing History” clears this as well, but if it doesn’t, that might be a surprise if you think you’ve cleared your tracks)

But another interesting use of this is that you can change the short cut. So if I double click on the entry for Wikipedia, and change the “Keyword” from “” to “wiki”, I can search Wikipedia by typing command-L to highlight the current address in the address bar, then typing “wiki Stephen Fry” and hitting return, and going directly to the Wikipedia page about Stephen Fry.

Lifehacker has an article about some other ways you can use this Search Engine capability to be able to do things like enter a Google Calendar event from the address bar.

Oh, I give up

I’ve been reading Slashdot since the very late 1990s. But as of today I just unsubscribed from its RSS feed. It is probably long past time. The comments have been unreadable for 4 or 5 year now, but I kept up with it because the articles had some merit, or at least most of them did.

But today was the last straw – first there was an article that was going all hysterical about the changing of the runway numbers at Tampa airport, suggesting it had something to do with the recent bird deaths, and/or with the ridiculous and easily discredited “Pole Shift” rapid magnetic pole shifting hypothesis. Then if that wasn’t too crazy, there was another story, this time asking what equipment would be useful in a ghost investigation. So much for “News for Nerds, Stuff That Matters”.

Sorry, I know a number of people who believe in ghosts, and people who watch those ridiculous “ghost investigation” shows, but it’s neither news nor technology.

Computer problems

My laptop’s Airport (wifi) is kind of flakey. It reports a good connection and gets a proper IP from DHCP, but then stops being able to talk to the rest of the network. I’m able to keep using it because while it’s at my desk I can plug it into the wired network.

But the laptop is still covered by AppleCare, at least for the next 60 days. So I should bring it in to get it fixed soon. But I can’t leave it at Apple because every day it’s away from me is a day I can’t work. So before I can take it in, I have to figure out how to do my work from my old Linux box, or if that doesn’t work, where to borrow a Mac to work on.

Let’s see, to do my work on a Linux computer, I’d need the following things that I don’t currently have:

  • speakers (I think I have some around, I’ve just never configured them)
  • microphone (I’ve never installed one on Linux, that could be tricky)
  • Skype
  • Dropbox
  • Chrome
  • Remote Desktop Client (if such a thing exists and works)
  • VirtualBox and a Windows environment (which might take care of the Remote Desktop Client)

That will probably be enough to get me going. But it’s obviously not as nice as having my own MacBookPro, or even a loaner machine that I’ve cloned my TimeMachine backup onto.