Best Choice for a First Time Mac User

In an email, the question was raised what is the best Mac for a first-time buyer that just wants to do some basic web browsing, photo editing, and light video editing? While the biggest and most expensive models can accomplish these tasks very easily, let’s take a look at which options would best suit these needs.

The current line of Mac minis is capable of doing everything listed, even basic movie editing through iMovie, however, if you want a smooth experience with smooth multitasking, you’re probably best going with an iMac. The i3 processor is quick and responsive, even when dealing with 1080p video on iMovie. Having a capable monitor built-in is a big plus and in terms of value makes up a lot of the difference price-wise between the Mac mini and the iMac.

If you want to go with something more portable, the MacBook is a good budget choice for web browsing and photo editing but not recommended for video editing due to it’s underpowered processor and lower resolution display. A MacBook pro at a couple hundred dollars more will give you a powerful platform with a capable of handling quite a bit.

Here are some builds I think bring the best price for performance without being overkill for what you’re asking for:

iMac 21.5-inch: 3.06GHz ($1,199)
This is the base model iMac though the differences between it and the step up are minimal considering what you’re wanting to do with it.

Mac Mini 2.4 GHz: 320GB ($699)
One of the wonderful advantages to the Apple warranty is that you don’t have to have to buy or install additional RAM through them. A $100 upgrade to 4GB of memory can cost a fraction of that if you use quality after market RAM. See for spec requirements and installation instructions.

This particular model is the least powerful out of the suggested options, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re planning on doing a lot of full HD video editing, but it will handle basic tasks fairly easily. Make sure you have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse at the ready since they don’t come included with the Mac Mini.

13-inch MacBook Pro: 2.3GHz ($1,199)
The MacBook Pro combines a decent amount of performance with portability. The Core i5 processor is significantly faster than the one found on the MacBook and the Mac Mini. Even large external monitors will connect to the MacBook Pro without overwhelming the video processor.

As far as software goes, iMovie is a capable movie editing platform included with new Macs without any added cost. It works very well to do most basic tasks and encoding your final product can be done through QuickTime, also included, with decent quality.

Photo editing can be done on a very basic level through iPhoto, though if you would like a powerful alternative without adding to the price, try Gimp. Gimp is the open source answer to PhotoShop and includes a lot of great features.

Neurons Cast Votes To Guide Decision Making

There should be an image here!We know that casting a ballot in the voting booth involves politics, values and personalities. But before you ever push the button for your candidate, your brain has already carried out an election of its own to make that action possible. New research from Vanderbilt University reveals that our brain accumulates evidence when faced with a choice and triggers an action once that evidence reaches a tipping point.

The research was published in the October issue of Psychological Review.

“Psychological models of decision-making explain that humans gradually accumulate evidence for a particular choice over time, and execute that choice when evidence reaches a critical level. However, until recently there was little understanding of how this might actually be implemented in the brain,” Braden Purcell, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology and lead author of the new study, said. “We found that certain neurons seem to represent the accumulation of evidence to a threshold and others represent the evidence itself, and that these two types of neurons interact to drive decision-making.”

The researchers presented monkeys with a simple visual task of finding a target on a screen that also included distracting items. The researchers found that neurons processing visual information from the screen fed that information to the neurons responsible for movement. These movement neurons served as gatekeepers, suppressing action until the information they received from the visual neurons was sufficiently clear. When that occurred, the movement neurons then proceeded to trigger the chosen movement.

The researchers also found that the movement neurons mediated a competition between what was being seen — in this case, the target and distracting items — and ensured that the decision was made to look to the proper item.

“What the brain seems to do is for every vote it receives for one candidate, it suppresses a vote for the other candidate, exaggerating the differences between the two,” Jeffrey Schall, E. Bronson Ingram Chair in Neuroscience and co-author of the study said. “The system that makes the response doesn’t listen to the vote tally until it’s clear that the election is going towards one particular candidate. At that point, the circuitry that makes the movement is triggered and the movement takes place.”

The findings offer potential insights into some psychological disorders.

“Impairments in decision-making are at the core of a variety of psychological and neurological impairments. For example, previous work suggests that ADHD patients may suffer deficits in controlling evidence accumulation,” Purcell said. “This work may help us to understand why these deficits occur at a neurobiological level.”

An important piece of this research is the novel model the researchers used in the study. The new model combined a mathematical prediction of what they thought would transpire with actual data about what the neurons were doing.

“In a model, usually all the elements are defined by mathematical equations or computational expressions,” Thomas Palmeri, associate professor of psychology and a co-author of the study, said. “In our work, rather than coming up with a mathematical expression for the inputs to the neural decision process, we defined those inputs with actual recordings from neurons. This hybrid model predicts both where and when the eyes move, and variability in the timing of those movements.”

“This approach provides insight between psychological processes and what neurons are doing,” Schall said. “If we want to understand the mind-brain problem, this is what solutions look like.”

[Photo above by ewedistrict / CC BY-ND 2.0]

Melanie Moran @ Vanderbilt University

[awsbullet:John Medina Brain]

Why Making Our Own Choices Is More Satisfying When Pleasure Is The Goal

There should be an image here!When it comes to our own pleasure, we like having a choice, but when it comes to utilitarian goals, we’re just as happy being told what to do, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“Imagine a patron at a fixed-menu restaurant who is dining either for the sheer pleasure of tasting the food or to achieve some higher-level goal — for example, a better understanding of the local culture,” write authors Simona Botti (London Business School) and Ann L. McGill (University of Chicago). “In these two cases, would the diner’s satisfaction with the restaurant’s pre-determined choices differ from the satisfaction she would experience with her own menu choices?”

The authors conducted four experiments in which they presented participants the same choice-set options but varied the process (how the item was chosen) and the choice goal. In all the studies, the participants could either personally choose one of the options or they were assigned one of the options by a third party. The participants were told either that the goal was simply to enjoy the outcome of the choice (hedonic goal) or to reach a higher-end consequence (utilitarian goal).

In the first study, participants were exposed to a selection of different virtual museum visits after being assigned to be either tourists visiting the museum for fun or art students visiting to research their theses. In subsequent studies, participants chose (or were assigned) massages, gourmet food, and workout regimens.

“Results consistently show that the outcome of a self-made choice is more satisfying than the outcome of an externally made choice when the goal is hedonic, but when the goal is utilitarian there is no difference in satisfaction between choosers and non-choosers,” the authors write. “A lack of choice feels less like a deprivation of the capacity to determine one’s own fate when the goal choice is utilitarian than when it is hedonic.”

Companies like airlines or restaurants that cater to business customers and retailers that offer necessities should take heed. “In these contexts, rather than being dissatisfied by the lack of choice, consumers may end up just as happy,” the authors conclude.

[Photo above by monkeysox / CC BY-ND 2.0]

Mary-Ann Twist @ University of Chicago Press Journals

[awsbullet:Paul Bloom pleasure]

As The Numer Of ISPs Dwindle So Do Our Options

In what is not a surprising fact, over 78% of Americans have only two options of ISPs when it comes to land based broadband connections. In years gone by, when dial-up was the only option, most Americans had about a dozen choices to make if they had issues with one of the providers. But these days users are limited to the options they have and when an ISP cuts back on services, users may be stuck using the provider with little or no choice. Some 13% of consumers, according to the FCC, have only one land based option.

There was a time when we had hoped that city wide Wi-Fi, WiMAX, or electrical grid connections would offer more options, but these services have just about faded away. According to one recent article, the situation has further deteriorated when the FCC recently lost a court case against several major ISPs.

That brings us to the appeals court’s ruling that the FCC could not write net-neutrality regulations without prior congressional authorization (which also threatens the FCC’s plans to subsidize rural broadband service). The judgment makes legal sense but leaves Internet providers free to engage in such abuses as slowing customers’ access to legal sites and services — something Comcast was caught doing in 2007.

That is a problem, contrary to what you might hear. “Net neutrality” isn’t a concern just for freeloaders using BitTorrent file-sharing — a service with legitimate uses — and it’s not a government plot to control the Internet. It’s about ensuring that the one or two Internet providers in town can’t limit what you do on the Internet.

I am not a huge fan of government regulations when it comes to anything in our lives. But the reality is that big business has little concern about what we consumers want and more concern about squeezing every nickle from us. For those of you who support the theory of trickle down, I have to agree. Crap does run downhill. Unfortunately it is we consumers who are downhill. LOL

So what do you think the answer is?

Comments welcome.


The Browser Of Choice For European Users

Microsoft has posted on their blog site the new browser screen they will be including with all versions of Windows. Bowing to the European Union demand to offer all Windows users a choice, other than Internet Explorer, seems to have been meant in this latest addition to the Windows OS. Browsers being offered include Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Opera and of course I.E. Here is what the new browser choice screen looks like:

It is kind of ironic that the EU has now only required a browser choice, just when I.E. is losing its popularity. In Europe I seriously doubt that any computer user is not aware that other browsers are available for download. I would also guess that a good portion of the European market is controlled by Linux, where I.E. is not even offered.

Which brings up a question? If Microsoft is being forced to offer other browser choices in Windows, would it not seem fair to have Apple and Linux do the same?

Just a thought.

Comments welcome.


EU To Microsoft – Users Need Browser Choice – But There Is More

The vultures are circling as the EU may require Microsoft to make other browsers available in the upcoming Windows 7. There seems to be an element around us that has the opinion that once Microsoft loses the browser market, the company is finished. In one opinion I read it all revolves around how Google is opening up the cloud, developing an OS for Netbooks which is the latest rage, and which in turn will drive the evil empire from our planet. Ho-Hum. This is getting old fast.

But here is what one article states:

  • “Desktop operating systems. The “operating system” is gradually being reduced to a set of drivers designed to run a single app: The Internet.  Microsoft is struggling to maintain its pricing and profit structure in netbook sales (the fastest growing segment of the market), and “desktops” are no longer the center of the computing universe.  As more and more resources are shifted to the cloud, and users access the same info and apps from multiple devices and locations, the role of the desktop operating system will be further reduced.
  • Office apps. Yes, Google Apps are still weak, especially for professional users.  But Google has grabbed the low end of the office app market, and they’ll presumably build from there.  Meanwhile, Microsoft’s features and functionality in Office have vastly overshot the needs of the mainstream market.  This makes Office ripe for disruption.
  • Mobile computing. Relative to Apple, Research In Motion, and other mobile leaders, Microsoft is nowhere here.
  • Cloud computing. In a world in which the processing and the apps live in the cloud, the operating system any given device is much less important. “

But there is just a few issues that haven’t been addressed. Businesses are not flocking to netbooks nor are they flying up to the clouds. Though I agree that there is a large market for a Google OS, I doubt it will be a dominate factor in 5 years as some believe.

We must remember that it is always easy to write about the demise of any despised company. But in this case, Microsoft will be around for a long time.

Comments welcome.


Bad Vista – Revisted After One Year

Back in January 2007 I did several pieces on a web site called and I thought I would stop back to see what was new on this anti-Vista blog site. The most recent article covered Microsoft removing their “kill-switch’  from Vista itself. The article describes this latest  development as a backlash from Vista users demanding more freedom.  It also states:

 When you install Vista, Microsoft claims that you consent to being spied upon, through the “Windows Genuine Advantage” system. This system tries to identify instances of copying that Microsoft thinks are illegitimate. This system includes a “kill switch” which allows Microsoft to remotely deactivate your copy of Vista. This deactivation, whether deliberate or by accident — as has been the case in some 500,000 cases already according to a study last year — locks you out of your computer, and forces you to contact Microsoft to get access to your files.

While they may have now ostensibly removed the kill switch from Vista, they have not updated the hostile license they say you must agree to in order to use Vista. Vista still restricts your freedom, because freedom at the whim of someone else is not freedom.

Vista still enforces Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) — technologies that companies like Disney, Warner, Netflix, Universal, Apple, Sony, Amazon, Fox and Microsoft are trying to impose on us all in order to have control over how our computers are used.

The public backlash that led to the kill switch in Vista being “removed” is a sign that people want software freedom. Today, Microsoft cannot offer people what they want. Thankfully, all is not lost — free software distributions of the GNU/Linux operating system offer that freedom today. One lesson we should all take from this is that if we speak loudly enough, and demand software freedom, it can have results. But we also shouldn’t be fooled — Microsoft has just hidden the kill switch behind its back, still claiming the authority to use it. More pressure is still needed, and the only thing that will work in the end is for Microsoft to release their software under a license that respects the freedom of computer users.

What is interesting is the illusion that if more people express their concerns,  that Microsoft will actually respect the wishes of computer users. I seriously doubt this is going to happen anytime soon. One statement I do agree with. If one does not care for the way Microsoft handles their licensing and product functions, one does have the choice to use a different operating system.

Comments are welcome.

[tags]vista, microsoft,, revisited, linux, operating system, choice, freedom,  [/tags]

Intel Giveway – You May Win $100 By Casting Your Vote

Intel Corp. is looking for participants in their ‘Intel Core Processor Challenge PC Design – People’s Choice Award”. Signing up is easy. Just provide a valid email address and vote for the PC design of your choice. Beginning on March 19th through April 19th, 2007, one winner will be selected each week to win a $100 gift certificate.

So I went over to Intel’s site to take a look at the competing PC designs and they are superb. Plain ivory boxes need not apply in this competition. What you will see are sleek dynamic machines in colorful styles and in different shapes and forms. Intel describes the competition as:

“PC Design People’s Choice Awards runs parallel to the $1 million industry competition for stylish computers built with Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processors. Last September, Intel announced the Intel Core Processor Challenge contest with a $1 million dollar bounty for PC designers and manufacturers worldwide to think beyond the traditional “big, beige box” computer designs. The contest aims to spur industry innovation in new home entertainment PC designs powered by the high performance, energy efficient Intel® Core™2 Duo processor along with Intel® Viiv™ technology. More than two dozen PC designs from 19 companies worldwide are vying over best style, acoustics, functionality and features. Entrants hail from eight countries. Ten semifinalists were chosen by Intel judges in March. In April, top designs will be selected by a group of computer and design experts, and winners are scheduled to be announced at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing. More details about the Intel Core Processor Challenge are at ”

So cast your vote and good luck!
[tags]intel, giveaway, people’s, choice, award,[/tags]

Heads Or Tails?

It’s time to return to puzzles. Several columns back I introduced the old probability puzzle of the children. A man wants to have a son to pass on his heritage. Life is good and the man fathers two children. At least on of them is a boy. What is the probability that the other is a boy? Assume that boys and girls have equal probability and we know nothing about the mating couple’s genes that would predict a predominance of one gender or the other.

It you missed the puzzle the first time around, think about it for a moment before reading on, because I will talk about the answer and the present a variation.

The odds are 2 to 1 that the other child is a girl. The explanation is in the way the puzzle was stated. Let the elder child be denoted by upper case and the younger child by lower case, then the children could be Bb, Gb, Bg, or Gg. However, the conditions of the puzzle eliminates the Gg paring, and of the three possibilities left, two of them have the second child being a girl.

If you do not believe this result, try a simple simulation using two coins of differing denominations. Throw both and announce that at least one is heads (or tails). What is the probability the other is heads (or tails)? After some reasonable number of tosses, the 2 to 1 ratio will be obvious.

For some reason, this type of computation really bothers people. But consider that if the puzzle had stated the elder child was a boy (or girl) then the probability that the other one is a girl would be 0.5. The puzzle involves the linking together of two independent events in a peculiar way. This linking can be extremely confusing as when it appears in the Monty Hall paradox, which I have also discussed in detail. For anyone who has not heard of the Monty Hall paradox, here is the very short version: A contestant can choose between three doors. Behind one door is a fabulous prize, and the other two have nothing of merit. The contestant chooses. Before the door is opened, Monty opens one of the other doors and shows that it contains nothing. Then he offers to let the contestant keep the original door or change. What should the contestant do? Most people respond that it doesn’t matter, but in fact, the contestant has a much better chance of winning by making the switch.

But what about the variation on the puzzle of the children?

Well, it’s come to my attention by a friend that in most families with two children, a girl is more likely to have a sister than a brother. While this surprised my friend, the reason is obvious. For a family to have two children, the arrangements can be BB, BG, or GG. That is straightforward. But for the test to work, we only consider the last two possibilities because the first one does not have a girl to test to see if she has a sister. Look at the last two possibilities. The are equally likely to occur. When the BG possibility occurs, the boy has a sister, but when the GG possibility occurs, both girls have a sister. Therefore, on the average twice as many girls will have a sister as boys have sisters. I think I did that right.

In response to the interest my original tutorial generated, I have completely rewritten and expanded it. Check out the tutorial availability through Lockergnome. The new version is over 100 pages long with chapters that alternate between discussion of the theoretical aspects and puzzles just for the fun of it. Puzzle lovers will be glad to know that I included an answers section that includes discussions as to why the answer is correct and how it was obtained. Most of the material has appeared in these columns, but some is new. Most of the discussions are expanded compared to what they were in the original column format.

[tags]puzzle, genetic, decision theory, choice, paradox[/tags]