Archive for November, 2004

November 18th, 2004

Hands-Free Phones

I get annoyed as everyone else at people who use cell phones inappropriately—you know, during movies, while driving, or what-have-you. But lately I’ve been noticing an increase in one particular inappropriate use that baffles me. Yesterday, I got stuck in a waiting room for some time with a guy who simply could not bear to spend one minute in silence. He made and received calls continuously for at least a half hour, cutting deals, making plans, and basically involving everyone else present in the running of his business. He spoke that strange dialect MBAnglish on his phone, which in itself is quite annoying. But what truly baffled me was that because of the “hands-free” headset he was wearing, he had to use both of his hands to talk on his phone.

Here’s the picture: There’s an earbud in your ear connected by a thin cable to your phone. Inline, about six inches away from the earbud, is the microphone. Gravity and human anatomy being what they are, this microphone, left to its own devices, will hang inconveniently far from the wearer’s mouth. So everyone I’ve ever seen using one of these contraptions holds the microphone up to their mouths with one hand, while carrying the phone in the other. Thus: the two-handed “hands-free” phone.

Somehow, no one seems to notice the irony in this, the fact that you could simply ditch the headset and in so doing free up at least one of your hands. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people using these devices in this way, and I just don’t get it. If your hands aren’t free, then it’s not “hands-free.” But it seems that in some bizarre way, the users of these devices are convinced that they make it easier to talk on the phone, when in fact they make it harder.

Surely some of the blame rests with manufacturers of “hands-free” headsets, who should realize that the mouth is not located on the side of the neck. But people keep buying the things, so there’s little incentive to stop making them. On the other hand, a good bit of the blame rests with users, who would probably (in some cases at least) be pleasantly surprised to discover that the little microphone will actually pick up their voice just fine even if it’s not right in front of their mouth.

There are, of course, any number of headset designs that position the microphone closer to the mouth, many of which are even wireless. And you can set up most modern phones for voice dialing, enabling your cell phone to remain safely tucked in your pocket the whole time. Your hands could be free, they really could. But you have to take the first step. Let…go…of…the…microphone.

November 15th, 2004

Chicken Rescuer

I have no words for how weird this is, but the following actually happened today.

At about 4:00, I decided to go out for a walk and do a few errands—you know, check the post office box, pick up a light bulb at the hardware store, buy some cat litter, that sort of thing. It was a lovely afternoon and this was going to be a very ordinary, refreshing walk. So I walked out the door, down to the end of the block and around the corner, and there on the sidewalk, scratching around in the dirt next to a small tree, were two chickens. They seemed perfectly happy and quite at home on the sidewalk in what is normally a pretty quiet residential neighborhood of San Francisco. They weren’t causing any particular trouble as far as I could tell, and they were friendly enough. But they were, I mean, chickens.

I have been to many places where it would not seem at all unusual to see a chicken on the sidewalk. A farming town in the midwest, say, or a small village in Costa Rica. But in San Francisco, where you can find anything—anything—on the street, I have never, ever seen a live chicken, to say nothing of two live chickens. And I simply had no idea what one was supposed to do upon encountering such animals that clearly did not belong there.

Perhaps, I thought, these chickens, which were not yet fully grown, belonged to the elementary school across the street. I saw two young children in front of the school with their father, and I asked them if they had any idea who the chickens belonged to. They did not. And none of us knew what the protocol was for dealing with an unexpected chicken discovery in San Francisco.

One option, of course, would have been to carry on with my walk; this is, I’m quite certain, what the majority of San Franciscans would do. I had an ethical problem with that course of action, however: nearby dogs were expressing a profound interest in the chickens, and had the birds chosen to escape by crossing the proverbial road, they would undoubtedly have been run over by an SUV. But what am I going to do, take the chickens home, keep them in my bathtub, and put up “Found: Chickens” posters all over town? Read the rest of this post »

November 14th, 2004

MailSteward 2.2

New Macworld review: MailSteward 2.2 (November 14, 2004; December 2004 issue, p. 34)

November 11th, 2004

Take Control of Apple Mail

When I set out to write about Apple’s Mail application for the Take Control series, I had several long discussions with Adam and Tonya Engst about how to divide the material into chunks of the right size, since we generally aim for 50-page ebooks and we clearly had much more than 50 pages worth of content. But as I started writing, I quickly discovered that the subject matter didn’t lend itself to the kinds of divisions we had come up with. After several false starts, I gave up on splitting the information and just wrote it as one very long document, hoping that a logical way to split the text would emerge after the fact.

After a great deal of mulling over that manuscript, Tonya suggested that I could split off the portion about fighting spam (roughly 20 pages) and expand that into its own complete ebook. The rest of the material would then be reorganized into a second book. It took quite a bit of additional effort, but the final result was a $5, 59-page ebook called Take Control of Spam with Apple Mail and a $10, 89-page ebook called Take Control of Email with Apple Mail.

Now, after all that tedious splitting, the two pieces have been rejoined into a printed book from Peachpit called Take Control of Apple Mail. It’s a gorgeous book, in full color, and includes our trademark free updates—anyone who purchases the printed book is entitled to free downloads of any future editions of the PDF version we produce. Quite a deal.

The only problem was that the book was printed a few weeks too late to meet the reset deadlines for certain large retail book chains. So although you can find it on and in a few bookstores, most brick-and-mortar shops probably won’t carry it until after the first of the year, at which point its days may be numbered, depending on how dramatic the changes are to the version of Mail that ships with Tiger. (A complete rewrite of the book, for example, would be beyond the scope of the free updates.)

Still, it was very nice to get my name on the cover of yet another printed book with barely any extra effort.