Building Emacs from Source for Mac OS X

There are a few binary Emacs packages for OS X floating around out there, but I always build it myself from the sources. This usually results in an Emacs that works the way I expect, rather than the way some "helpful" distributor thinks it ought to work.

I'll assume you have the developer tools and bzr installed, and know how to open Terminal and type some commands. Here are the commands you need to type:

bzr init-repo --2a emacs/

cd emacs

bzr branch bzr://

cd trunk

./configure --with-ns

make install

When this is complete, you'll end up with in the nextstep subdirectory. You can run from there, or copy it to your Applications directory.

Update 2010/10/29: Discovered that the Emacs team now uses Bazaar (bzr) rather than CVS. Updated the instructions accordingly, following advice from and Also, found what appears to be a faithful binary distribution at

The iTunes UI Sucks

I like most of Apple's products, but iTunes is a very dark corner of the Mac universe.

For example, here is what you have to do to download updates to your iPhone apps:

  1. Click the Applications link in the upper-left corner of the navigation pane.
  2. Move the mouse over to the lower-right corner and click the tiny, tiny Check for updates button.
  3. Move the mouse to the upper-right corner and click the Download All Free Updates button.

Three steps, requiring moving the mouse pointer all the way across the screen between each. There is no automatic-update feature.

There is probably some way to write an AppleScript to automate this, but AppleScript sucks too.

Do a web search for "iTunes sucks", and you'll find a lot more examples.

To paraphrase Bjarne Stroustrup: There is software everyone complains about, and software nobody uses. One could chalk up the iTunes hate to the simple fact that so many people are forced to use it whether they like it or not. But iTunes really does suck. I wish Apple would do a complete re-design of its UI, and make it act like an Apple product.

We Loves the Preciousss

It's not always easy to be an Apple fanboy: read "In Nomine Jobs, et Woz, et Spiritus Schiller" by Merlin Mann

I've installed Snow Leopard on my old 13-inch white Macbook (which I don't use for anything important). I've had no problems with it, but I'm going to wait a month or two before upgrading the Macs that I rely on. I want to wait until Apple releases a patch or two, and I need to let some dinosaurs catch up.

Snow Leopard is a nice upgrade which is definitely worth the thirty bucks, but for most users, it doesn't provide any benefits that justify the pain of being an early adopter.

UPDATE: Have installed Snow Leopard on my work laptop. No problems, except that my HAL 9000 screensaver doesn't work anymore.

Menubar Countdown 1.2 Works with Snow Leopard

Menubar Countdown, my Mac OS X countdown timer application, has been tested with 10.6 Snow Leopard, and it seems to work just fine.

(But if anyone finds otherwise, please let me know.)

MINI Cooper S Convertible Review

My wife and I bought a MINI Cooper S convertible almost a year ago. These are my thoughts about it:

The MINI Cooper convertible is the Apple Macintosh of cars. It's very expensive in comparison to other models with similar performance and features, and it has a lot of annoying flaws, but people who own them absolutely love them. It is the only car I've owned that has delighted me.

First, I'll note that I am not a "car guy." I won't say anything about horsepower, torque, zero-to-60, how it handles on a race course, or how it compares to any of the bazillion other cars on the road.

I'll start with what I don't like. It's small. Two adults fit in the front seats fine, but the rear seat is basically unusable. The trunk is almost unusable as well. We've had to cut shopping trips short because we knew we were carrying more shopping bags in our hands than would fit in the car. A full-size suitcase won't fit in the trunk, so think "duffel bags" if you want to do any traveling.

While it's small, you don't get a lot of the advantages of a small car. We only get about 26 MPG, in mostly highway driving. It's short nose-to-tail, but is about as wide as a typical car, so you can't squeeze into those parking spaces that other cars have to pass by. The turning radius is a lot wider than you would expect.

With the convertible top up, visibility is terrible. You can't see much out the rear window, due to the roll-bar thingees on top of the rear seats, and the blind spots in the rear quarters are huge. I often have to put my chin down on the steering wheel to see traffic signals, due to the low ceiling.

The GPS system sucks.

But with all those problems, I'm still thrilled with it.

Despite its small size and tiny engine, it feels more like a mid-size car. It's very stable, and takes corners well. The automatic transmission works pretty well in most circumstances, and switching into the semi-automatic mode is great when driving on twisty mountain roads like the one that goes up to my house.

And it has this magical aura that makes people smile. People come up to me in parking lots and ask about it. Other MINI drivers wave at me on the road.

So, if you just want practical inexpensive transportation, stay away from the MINI. But if you want to be happy when you're driving, give it a try.

P.S. Don't buy a MINI or any other car from Global Imports BMW in Atlanta. Those guys suck.

Changing Background Color and Section Header Text Color in a Grouped-style UITableView

While working on an iPhone application, I decided I wanted to change the colors of the background and section headers of a UITableView with the UITableViewStyleGrouped style. It took a lot more work than I expected, so I'm sharing what I learned with anyone else who needs to do this.

Netgear ReadyNAS Duo 2000 Setup and Review

I have previously written about my backup strategy. I've never really worried about backups too much. In the 30 years I've been using computers, I've never lost a hard drive.

...until last weekend. My wife's MacBook Air was displaying some funny behavior, so I ran Disk Utility on it. Disk Utility said the drive had problems, so I clicked Repair Disk, and it would not boot thereafter. I called Apple, and their expert told me I'd have to erase the drive and reinstall the operating system. We had no backups for that machine. My wife was not happy to lose everything. And of course, it is my fault she had no backups. (I've told her about Time Machine, but she didn't believe it could really be that easy to set up, so she never did.)

So, better late than never, I decided to get some network storage and start backing up everything to it. A friend was happy with his Netgear ReadyNAS, so I ordered a Netgear ReadyNAS Duo 2000 from Amazon, along with two 1-TB Western Digital Caviar Green hard drives. Total price came out to about $400.

The ReadyNAS has two drive bays. Most models come with a drive included, but I bought the "bare" one that has no preinstalled drives, assuming that it would be cheaper to buy my own drives. Upon reading the manuals, I immediately hit a problem: the manuals explain how to add a second hard drive to a ReadyNAS that comes with a single drive, but nothing about what to do if you have an empty ReadyNAS.

Hoping for the best, I installed the two Caviar drives in the NAS, plugged it into the network, plugged it into power, and hit the power button. It turned on, but the slowly blinking LED didn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling.

I installed the RAIDar software, which one uses to manage the device, and it told me I had bad disks.

After about half an hour of Googling, registering the product, registering for the Netgear forums, and registering for the ReadyNAS forums (each of which required separate sign-up forms and e-mail confirmations), I finally found a current ReadyNAS FAQ (after hitting a few old FAQs that were created before my model existed). There was nothing specific about my situation, but I decided I would try the "factory reset". That worked: RAIDar enabled its Setup button, and I was able to initialize everything.

I was initially worried about the fan noise. When the ReadyNAS boots up, the fans are incredibly loud for something that small. After 30 seconds or so, the noise drops a little, but it was still really loud. A Google search for "readynas loud fan" indicated that lots of users have replaced their ReadyNAS fans, due to the noise. But after the drives got formatted, the fan noise dropped to a barely detectable level. It's not as quiet as my Macs, but it's not loud enough to be annoying.

It was very easy to set up Time Machine with the ReadyNAS. (First thing I did was back up my wife's Air, of course.)

The ReadyNAS has a lot of other features that I am not yet using. $400 for a backup solution seems a little pricey, when one can buy a 1-TB drive and enclosure for about $100, but having storage available on the network means we're more likely to actually do backups. We'll see how things go.

A complete description of all the features can be found here:

When Bailey Grows Up...

On the drive home today, my ten-year-old stepson Bailey told me what he is going to have when he grows up:

  • 20-30 billion dollars
  • A really big house, with a fence and guard dogs
  • Two Ferraris, and a Corvette
  • Hundreds of kittens. (He'll have to hire people to take care of the kittens, because he'll be too busy with guard-dog training.)
  • An aquarium with rare fish
  • Security dudes
  • Snipers hidden in the dark
  • Motion detectors that will deliver an electric shock to anyone who tries to hurt any of the security dudes
  • A special button, carried in his back pocket, that will instantly drop an anvil on any attackers. The anvil won't hurt them too much; it will just knock them through the floor into a jail cell.
  • A locked room containing gold bricks. The only people with keys to this room will be Bailey, his best friend, and the security dudes. The security dudes get paid twenty dollars per week, and two gold bricks per month.

Sounds like a plan. I hope he'll let my wife and me stay somewhere on the grounds, preferably in a rent-free beach house like Thomas Magnum.

He also asked me if he could get rich by making toothpaste. I wish him luck.

Mac App Guide Review of Menubar Countdown

The Mac App Guide video podcast has reviewed my Menubar Countdown application. The review includes a demonstration of how to use it.

See MAG 23: Handy Countdown Timer (Freeware) for Mac OS X.

Lunar Lander

Whenever I'm asked how I got interested in computers, I relate this story:

When I was about ten years old, my father took me to an IBM open house. Dad worked for IBM during its heyday, when it was the biggest computer company in the world and would seemingly control the computer industry forever. Employees were treated very well, with lots of company-sponsored picnics, dinners, holiday parties, and so forth. This open house was a celebration of the opening of yet another new IBM office in the Atlanta area.

I was a smart kid, but had never played with computers. This was before TRS-80's and other home computers were available. I think we may have had some Sears-marketed Pong game at home, but otherwise my experience with computers consisted of what I saw in sci-fi TV shows and movies.

While walking around the office, Dad showed me and the rest of my family the IBM systems. I was bored: all I saw were a bunch of glass-walled rooms containing green-screen terminals with huge printers connected to them, and guides bragged about how many pages of text could fit in their memories and how fast the tractor-feed printers could print reports and paychecks.

Then, almost as an afterthought, we went into this little room where a couple of bearded guys were sitting at a small terminal. I immediately sensed that these guys were not like the other IBM'ers. I now know these guys were programmers, but back then I just knew that even though these guys wore ties, they weren't businessmen. These guys were different, and cool.

They asked me if I wanted to play a game on their computer.

The game was Lunar Lander. It was a purely text-based game, without any graphics or joystick controllers or other videogamey stuff. It told me how high above the lunar surface I was, and what my rate of descent was, and asked me how much fuel I wanted to burn. (See 40 Years of Lunar Lander for examples of what this experience was like.)

I was unable to successfully land, even after several tries, but I was suddenly and permanently obsessed with computers. I had no idea how they worked, but I knew that the computer contained an imaginary universe where a lunar lander was descending toward the moon. I figured that if I learned how computers worked, I could create some imaginary universes of my own.

So, I started asking Dad about how computers worked, and he started borrowing manuals from the system engineers and bringing them home to me. Then I got an Atari 800 computer for Christmas one year.

Since then, there have not been very many days that I have not been playing around with imaginary universes. I owe it all to Lunar Lander and supportive parents.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, and also thank you to the nameless, bearded guys who invited me to join their game.

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