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Marc Wandschneider is a professional software developer with well over fifteen years of industry experience (yes, he really is that old). He travels the globe working on interesting projects and gives talks at conferences and trade shows whenever possible.

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My book, "Core Web Application Programming with PHP and MySQL" is now available everywhere, including

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Oct 15, 2005 | 14:52:40
Finding the Love
By marcwan

In March of this year, having largely finished writing my first book on web application programming with PHP and MySQL, I realised it was time to find another contract. I hadn’t worked in nearly a year, and the reserves were getting a little bit lower than I would normally like.

Around then, I started getting a number of emails and phone calls from people interested in having me come work for them for a while. Most of the jobs were to write some .NET applications or tools, or otherwise C/C++ things related to OLE2/COM that I did all the time when I worked for Microsoft in the 1990s. The money for these contracts is usually good, and I was relieved to learn I wasn’t going to be smashing open the piggy bank for extra funds.

Cool Link #1: AdiumX, an excellent chat client for OS X.

When I went to talk with the various people about the contracts, however, I suddenly found myself extremely unenthused about the work being offered. None of it sounded terribly difficult, but at the same time, none of it sounded in the least bit interesting. At all. Had I completely bottomed out on the whole computer thing? After six months of full-time writing a book and programming PHP and MySQL, was I so burned out that I needed a break from computing, or worse, a complete change of career? It certainly felt so. At the peak (trough?) of my self-doubt, taking a job for pennies above minimum wage at the local café where I get my daily fix sounded more interesting than taking any of the offered jobs.

I made a commitment to myself: no more jobs that sucked. While I can’t honestly say that any of the offered jobs were what anybody would call ‘terrible work’ – they pay well and treat me well – at the end of the day they just weren’t any fun, and I’ve long espoused that life is too short to do crappy stuff that makes you crabby. So, I turned all those jobs down and took a job doing some open source work with PHP and MySQL which payed reasonably well, and figured I’d be fine.

Cool Link #2: FireFox for OS X

And then I lost my Dell laptop—it was taken to Europe by Samantha, who was doing a study abroad program in Rome. I still had some more work to do on my book, and since that absolutely had to be done at the caf√©, I needed a new laptop.

On a whim, I went down to the local Apple Store (Seattle is now swarming with them) and bought a 12” Powerbook. I took it home, spent a good half hour trying to get it to find my crappy 64-bit WEP encoded wireless router (which was so old it’s a miracle that anybody finds it) and started playing.

In the early 1990s, McGill University’s School of Computer Science (SOCS) purchased a number of NeXT computers for laboratory use. They were very cool, if somewhat ahead of their time, and I had heard that the new OS X was based on this, and thus wouldn’t suck as much as I’ve always perceived OS 9 and predecessors. I had also read that FreeBSD, an operating system of which I’ve long been a fan, would form a key part of the new operating system.

I had no idea how cool the new computer would be. Within the hour, I had the developer tools and compiler downloaded and was building and installing my favourite software. OS X appeared to be what I had long dreamed of: Unix with a non-sucky GUI on top of it. I was hooked.

Cool Link #3: Microsoft Resources for the Mac

I finished my book on the new machine, and then the ladyfriend came back from Europe, at which point it was deemed that the Dell laptop was dead (or at least really sleepy). She became the new owner of the 12” Powerbook, and I ended up with a 15”. A horrific amount of money for the two new machines, but we both use them constantly. There was almost no learning curve for her with the new machine. A couple of questions about what programs mapped from Windows to the new system, but otherwise, none of the usual troubles. She now finds herself using the computer much more than she ever used the old Dell, and is turning into a computer nerd herself.

I am now in the final stretch of a reasonably long contract for PHP and MySQL, and my co-worker whom I sit beside every day is entirely sick of me asking him if I’ve ever told him how much fun my new computer is. At some point almost every day, I get this giddy feeling of happiness when using this machine. From multimedia to programming to writing to simple web surfing, this machine is a hoot. My co-worker’s wife, a computer professional herself, is already pestering him for one too.

Cool Link #4: The Apple Store

Major concerns with moving to OS X for me had always been keyboard accelerators and internationalisation. I am very lazy and hate to reach for the mouse unless necessary. I also tend to write a lot of messages and such in many different languages, and if the new machine was not going to let me write in Japanese, Arabic, or Korean without hassle, it was going to be a non-starter. Fortunately, OS X has solved all of these problems, and a few others too. I find the way in which I used other operating systems has completely changed based on how I use this one now, and there are a few features (Exposé definitely) that I find annoying that other operating systems don’t have.

I, once again, find computers fun to use again. I’ve got a list swirling in my head of applications, utilities, and scripts that would be fun to write and I’ve already begun to tackle this list, even with other projects in the offing. For those claiming that my finding the love again is an isolated case, go sit in a café with Wi-Fi or attend a conference that’s not Microsoft XXX or some such thing—Apple is gaining mind-share rapidly. Here’s to hoping they don’t screw it up.

Cool Link #5: VLC, An Excellent Media Player
Comments (1) Add Comment | Tags: osx mac powerbook computing NeXT
Her pestering pays off... sort of...
Posted By: The Co-Worker Who Sits Beside Marc Oct 30, 2005 18:14:27
After several months of sitting next to Marc while he repeatedly experienced his little joy outbursts and Mac-love epiphanies, coupled with the spousal pestering referred to in the article, I broke down.

One night, when my wife came home from work, I told her we needed to run an errand at the soulless, sprawling, banal vortex of consumerism known as Bellevue Square mall. She claims she didn't know what lay in wait, and if she wasn't actually surprised, she did a good job of feigning it when, after a few minutes of browsing at the Apple store I asked the clerk to bring us one of the 15" PowerBooks whose praises Marc had been singing for months.

Although she got her gift Mac a couple of months before the actual holiday season, my borrowing it for the entire work day, every day, appears to be getting old... As a result I'm placing an order for my own 17" sometime in the next few days, at which point she'll have full time use of hers again.

Much as Marc describes, using the machine is like having a burden lifted. No longer do I spend my days fumbling along on a Dell laptop, nearly every piece of which has been replaced under warranty since I got it four years ago. I don't chafe under the constraints of a command line environment that feels like CP/M with a different typeface on it. I don't repeatedly wince as I try to make a gaggle of ported GNU Unix-oid utilities perform properly... And I don't have to watch the thing constantly page itself to death under memory usage conditions that don't even seem to give the PowerBook pause. In fact, using the machine is so much more pleasant that it almost feels like the thing can reverse burn-out...

If anybody reading this does development every day, and you're not explicitly targeting Windows and only Windows, you really should give one of these things a try... Your hours spent in front of it are going to suck much less than you may be used to...
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