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Dr MacLove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Apple

tumblr_lvuw7pdsFg1r2r3c4o1_500Back in the 90s it was easy; if you were a graphic designer, or some kind of proto-hipster with a trust fund you used a Mac. Everyone else used a PC. Then in the 2000s Apple started making iThings, everyone started going absolutely batshit crazy over them, and suddenly Macs were everywhere as well.

I’ve used both in parallel since about 2003 – I started off with a G5 power mac as a desktop complemented by a Windows laptop, but that’s now reversed with a Windows 7 PC on my desk at work, and a MacBook Air. This shift was significant – the desktop is what’s provided to me by my job, the laptop is my personal computer; what I choose to buy for myself.  Despite using OS X since 2003 I only really started liking it when I got my first Apple laptop – a 2009 MacBook Pro. This was also around the time that I got an iPhone 3G, which seemed like some incredible advanced artefact from the future compared to the chunky ‘smartphone’ I was using before that ran Windows Mobile 6.5; an unbelievably awful OS which I could never get to work as it should. I’ve since swapped the Pro for a 2012 MacBook air, bought an iPad mini, and am on my third iPhone, so my conversion is pretty much complete. I’ve looked at Android ‘phones and tablets, honestly, I have. Some of them are very nice, but the OS just always seems too…  busy. Maybe it’s my age, but I just want something I can pick up and use without a massive learning curve. I’m happy to stand up and say I’m an Apple-guy, and it took a while, but I’m finally actually OK with that.

It took a while, but I’ve now found Mac versions or fairly close equivalents for all the software I used on my PC. At first I sometimes used to boot into Windows using bootcamp to use a couple of applications, but I deleted the partition a while ago – I just wasn’t using it anymore. I probably won’t be spending money on any Windows machines for the foreseeable future. I know that Mac vs. Windows is one of the most hackneyed, pointless and bitter debates on the entire internet, but I just couldn’t resist setting my own bit of troll-bait out. Here, then, are the major reasons I became a Mac convert – your mileage may vary, personal opinions only, blah blah.

The MacBook Air
The Air is the machine that kicked off the ultrabook trend and, to my mind, PC manufacturers have still yet to equal the Air’s amazing combination of power, usability and portability. My 2012 model is greased-lightning-off-a-shovel fast – it chews through a set of fMRI pre-processing twice as fast as my old MB Pro, and that was no slouch either. The 2013 models are even faster, with better graphics and a frankly ridiculous 12-hour battery life. If you can live with a relatively small (128/256Gb) amount of storage, it’s a peach of a machine. Plus, I can carry it around all day and barely even notice the weight. For my money, the Air is the best value computer out there – I don’t think the step-up in performance you get with the Pro is worth the price, personally.

The Apple Trackpad
Using the trackpad on a Windows laptop feels like going back to the stone age after you’re used to the fantastic set of multi-touch gestures on an Apple laptop. Have never found one on a PC that even comes close.

Migration Assistant
Remember the excitement of getting a new computer and then the agony of re-installing all your applications, and tweaking the system to get it the way you like it? That pain doesn’t exist for me anymore. Apple’s Migration Assistant lets you do a time-machine back-up of your old computer on to an external  drive, plug that into the new one and everything is reproduced; your applications, desktop, OS settings, bookmarks, everything. It’s awesome.

Expose/spaces
OS X’s system of virtual desktops is brilliant, and essential for me, now that I’ve got used to it; flipping between desktops with ctrl+left/right arrow keys is fast and smooth, and means you can really extend the limits of what can be done on a 13″ laptop screen. I have no idea why Windows doesn’t implement virtual desktops.

Unix
In the last couple of years I’ve switched to using FSL as my main fMRI-analysis platform. FSL is developed on Macs, runs well on other Unix systems, but needs some kind of unix-emulation to run on Windows. Urgh – forget it. I do like being able to open up a terminal and institute little tweaks to the OS and applications as well. Of course Matlab/SPM and BrainVoyager also run beautifully on OS X.

Installing/Uninstalling
To install an application on OS X you drag it to a folder. To uninstall it you drag it to the recycle bin. That’s it.

Mac-only software
Osirix is without any shadow of a doubt, the best free DICOM image viewer available, and it’s Mac-only. Other things like Automator I’d really miss too, plus of course Apple’s super-fast and comprehensive spotlight search is awesome.

No crapware
You know all that shit you have to uninstall as soon as you get a new PC? Free trials of anti-virus software, media players, desktop icons that link to shitty Yahoo services you have no intention of ever using? Doesn’t exist in OS X.

 

Having said all that, of course there are annoying things that drive me crazy about OS X too. No system is perfect after all…

No Cut/Paste
You can copy and paste files between two file locations, but you can’t CUT and then paste. Seriously Apple, is this really a problem?

Annoying behaviour of the green button
The green button at the top of the window that I still think of as the ‘maximise’ button – it’s annoying. It seems to re-size the window pretty much randomly. I hate it.

ITunes
For the love of all that is holy Apple, will you please do something about the benighted clusterfuck that is iTunes? It’s utterly heinous.

Feel free to disagree with me in the comments. If you think Windows 8 is the greatest OS ever devised, please say so. Personally I think it’s a botched, compromise that tries to bring touch-functionality to laptops and laptop-functionality to tablets and does neither well, but hey, that’s just my opinion. Windows is like Star Trek movies – every other one in the series is decent, which means Windows 9 should actually be pretty usable.

Anyway – flame on!

Smartphones in psychology – how will you use yours?

This is the future. Oh yes, it is.

I’ve been thinking about doing a piece on smartphones in psychology for a while now – it seemed apposite given the death of Steve Jobs, and the release of the iPhone 4s – however the BPS research digest has just beaten me to it with a post entitled “Steve Jobs gift to cognitive science”. They cite several studies which have used several different kinds of smartphones (mostly iPhones) either to collect data using specific tasks or in some other way (monitoring activity/movement). The BPS article highlights applications of smartphones in research, but a quick search of the interwebs reveals that the studies it cites are just the tip of an ever-growing iceberg of ways in which people are using this technology.

First, there are the studies which use people’s reactions to the iPhone as a tool to examine some aspect of cognitive function – this one for instance, is concerned with the phenomenon of evaluative conditioning, but uses the central question of why people like the iPhone as a way of examining the literature.

Second, there are the studies which use the computing power of smartphones (which nowadays are seriously capable computing platforms) to instantiate some kind of psychologically relevant function. This article uses the iPhone as a platform for a novel evolutionary algorithm which detects multiple human faces, and has applications in robot visual systems.

Next there are the apps which aim to provide some kind of therapy, and there are a lot of these. Here are two which claim to provide CBT therapy on the iPhone: CBTreferee and iCouch. This article discusses the use of an app which aims to promote behavioural management of migraines in adolescents, while this one is a review of the iRecovery addiction recovery app, in the context of sex addiction. Needless to say, a great deal of work clearly needs to be done in evaluating whether and how these kinds of tools could be used clinically, and my mentioning them here is just to point out their existence, and definitely should not be taken as any kind of endorsement.

Then there are the massive numbers of psychology e-books which are now available through the Apple iTunes store and various other outlets (the Android market, Amazon Kindle store etc.). Many of the ‘classics’ in psychology by authors like Freud or Havelock-Ellis are available for free, and there are also a huge number of modern textbooks available. By far the most eye-watering ones that pop up are an (apparently) exhaustive six-volume treatise on “The psychology of adult spanking” I’ll say nothing else about that, except caveat emptor.

A special last mention has to go to a bunch of researchers at the Technical University of Denmark who have demonstrated a working version of a smartphone brain scanner. Using a wireless EEG headset and a Nokia N900 they’ve been able to instantiate real-time visualisation and brain-state decoding in a totally mobile package. Pretty mind-blowing stuff – the video below shows various demos, and is well worth a watch.

Whatever comes along in the future, it’s clear that mobile computing platforms like smartphones are not going away anytime soon, and in fact they may even become the dominant computing platform before too long. Researchers and therapists would be well advised to engage with the technology as soon as they can.

TTFN.

Best iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch apps for psychology students

The iPhone is much more than just a phone – it’s a powerful mobile computing platform which has completely changed the way  we interact with our mobile devices. If you’re a student who has one (or an iPod touch, or even an iPad, you lucky, lucky thing) there are many ways you can use it to make your life easier.

Mendeley. If you use Mendeley (and if you’re any kind of student and you don’t use it, or something like it, then you’re basically nuts) then a download of their free app is a must. The app connects to your online library of references and allows you full access to any PDFs you’ve synced to their servers for download and reading. You can sync papers to your library using the desktop version and read them later on your iPhone or iPad. Sweet. And it’s free! Read the rest of this entry