Relax with Macs

Keith White
31 July, 2008
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It’s often hard to tell the difference between work and play on a Mac. And as Apple keeps piling on the goodies and making the whole experience more silky smooth and seamless — whatever that means — it gets harder. Or easier, if you’re a glass-half-full person. I mean, give me a couple of interesting old photos to retouch for a friend and I’m definitely at play. Give me a hundred to do by day’s end and it’s work.

Anyhow here’s how I relax with my Macs.

First if I’m working with text or images, gotta have a sound blanket. iTunes of course running through my ancient Sony SRS 002 sound system which is so old I only got one hit in Google. But it still sounds nice and warm with a comforting rumble through the subwoofer. I’ve gathered a collection of ambient, world and classical music with a modest dynamic range which suits my purposes. I generally pep up the morning shift with Haydn or Mozart and fade into evening with mellow ambience.

After work I’ll often relive my non-existent glory days as a rock star in GarageBand. Over the years as a solo muso I’ve collected a huge range of midi files in every style imaginable. I’m in the process of picking out the best and rearranging them in GarageBand. I’ve got all the Jam Packs so I have a huge orchestra to choose from. There’s also a neat little program — ReMidi — which does some interesting arpeggio and strumming effects. When I’m done I grab the chords and lyrics if I need them from the web, plug the Strat straight in to the Mac and wail away. Sometimes I’ll connect my Rode Podcaster mic and hit Record. Other times I’ll play along with some nice little jazz and latin pieces Band-in-a-Box has created for me from chord patterns I’ve given it. Fun, fun, fun.

More passively there’s digital TV on the 24-inch iMac screen via Elgato Eye TV — especially corny old movies from the 40s and 50s. If there’s nothing on offer here, a random trawl through YouTube invariably throws up some gems. Recently I picked up some high quality clips with first Mark Knopfler and then Eric Clapton jamming with Scotty Moore who strummed for the King. And some really cheesy clips from the 50s which is when I grew up (almost).

More recently I’ve been indulging in zero emissions air travel via Google Earth. I’ve been to the house in England where I was born, my old schoolmate’s place in Perth where I’ll be when this piece goes live and the little farm in Normandy where we hope to house sit next May.

Jaw-dropping stuff.

Sometimes I jump into the Photo Booth for some bizarre self-portraits (it’s been unkindly suggested I don’t really need to use the wacky effects) Anyway I put these into Comic Life Magiq with some simple speech bubbles and e-mail them off to the grandkids. To help them with their reading, of course.

Then there’s the new (in Australia) iTunesU (for University) which I talked about in episode 31 of the Weekend Edition podcast. From iTunes you can download free audio or video lectures onto your iPod, and here’s where the work/play divide really blurs for me.

For example: I’m watching a series of Ken Burns mini docos on the Second World War and carefully studying how he plies his craft. Because I’m in the same game. But at another level I’m simply enjoying compelling stories beautifully told. Or learning a little conversational French from another series. Or enjoying some fascinating music clips from all over the world in another.

In similar vein there’s a bottomless bin of Australiana at the Australian Screen web site with some fascinating clips from the early days of film and television. Definitely addictive.

And then there’s new software to play with. By definition that can’t be work, can it? Recently I’ve had some fun putting Bento through its paces and testing the new features in Toast 9. Just mucking around.

When the hour grows late it’s into horizontal mode with my favorite British comedy series on the iPod video before sleep and another day’s work and play.

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