I’ve Fallen and I Need to Confess

I dabbled for a while in college, but I’ve resisted the temptation ever since. I knew it was the right thing to do. Others fell. But not me. I was the strong one. I was faithful.

That’s over now.

I’ve fallen.

Eve had her apple. And now, I have mine.

I bought a Mac.

In my defense, it’s not just any Mac. Less than 2.5 pounds. Just over half-an-inch thick. Barely bigger than a iPad. And faster than a greased cat on a slip-n-slide. The MacBook Air 11.

Eve lost her soul for a piece of fruit. At least I held out for a sweet laptop.

Regular readers know that I’ve been searching for the right laptop for a while. Actually, it’s been almost a year now. And, that’s mostly because I’m a cheapskate. So, I kept trying to find the least expensive laptop that would do what I wanted. (Translation: I was trying to find a $400 laptop that would perform like a $1000 laptop).

So, it’s been a bit of a journey:

  1. Mainstream “Value” Laptops: I think I’ve tried at least four different laptops in this category. And, along the way I discovered that 14″ laptops are too big to use comfortably on an airplane. Maybe when my plans for world domination finally come to fruition and I can fly first class on a regular basis, this won’t be as much of a problem. But, for now, something smaller than 14″ is necessary. And, “value” laptops tend to be pretty heavy. I need more exercise, but this doesn’t seem like the best solution.
  2. Netbooks: I’ve also gone through three different netbooks. And, I really thought this would be the solution. After all, I was looking for small, light, and cheap, and that’s exactly what a netbook is. One problem: I also need some power. I always have multiple applications open (including a multi-tabbed browser), and I switch between them frequently. Even the higher-end netbooks start to bog down after a bit. This wouldn’t be a problem if I only used a laptop when I travel, but I use my laptop extensively when I’m at home as well. So, I need something a bit more functional than a netbook.
  3. iPad 2: Okay, I knew this probably wasn’t going to work, but I thought I should try anyway. So, last week I bought an iPad. And, I now have one more week to decide if I’m going to keep it. So far, I’m torn. It’s a nice little device and does a great job with what it’s designed to do. But, it clearly isn’t a laptop replacement. Even adding a bluetooth keyboard didn’t do the trick. It’s a niche device. I’m having fun with it, but I don’t know if I’ll keep it.

Having exhausted these options, I’ve developed a pretty clear picture of what I’m looking for. My perfect laptop needs to be (1) small enough to use comfortably on an airplane, (2) light enough to carry everywhere I go, (3) powerful enough to use every day without bogging down, and (4) have enough battery life to run at least 4-5 hours without being plugged in.

I’m sure you can see now why I was having a hard time finding something in the $400 range that met my needs. So, I’ve decided to shove frugality to the side and go with a laptop that actually fits those criteria. That’s how I ended up with the Macbook. I now have two weeks to determine whether this is the right move. If I’m not convinced by then, I’ll take it back and keep looking.

Other than cost, the only real drawback is that I now have to adjust to a Mac environment. I haven’t used a Mac regularly since I was an undergrad. So, there’s a bit of a learning curve involved.

If you’re a Mac person, I’d love to hear what programs you like to use. Feel free to comment on any of your favorite programs, but I’m particularly interested in the following:

  • Word Processors: MS Word has been my processor of choice up to this point. But, if I move to a Mac, I may branch out a bit. So, I’m starting to toy around with Scrivener, Pages, Open Office, and Mellel.
  • Bible Software: I’ve used Bible Works for years now, but I’ve heard that working the BW inside an emulator is less than satisfying. So, I may need to move to Accordance or Logos on the laptop, though I’ll keep using BW regularly on my office system.
  • Research Manager: Zotero and Sente seem to be the leading candidates here, unless someone has another suggestion. (I’ve been using Endnote for a while, but there has to be something better.)

Anyway, that’s the story of my great fall. Thanks for letting me confess. I feel better now.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on August 1, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Well…this is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make! I switched over to Mac five years ago and have never looked back. Spend a day or two just playing with the computer and understanding it will come easier than you think – it’s all designed to be highly intuitive to use, and it’s all designed with the individual end user in mind.

    Word Processor: I still use Word, but I have used Mellel for docs that need Hebrew (Word for Mac doesn’t support R to L fonts, although sometimes they will work).

    Logos has a great platform with their recent upgrade on their Mac program. I know a lot of people at Gordon-Conwell who are pleased with Accordance. BibleWorks was a pain in the rear for me (no way to copy/paste to my Word for Mac).

    Research Manager – I use Bookends and Devonthink Pro. Both are great programs. If I was starting from scratch, I would probably shift over to Sente (it looks cooler), but I have too much invested in Bookends at this point.

    Two other programs to check out: Anki is a s flashcard system that works on Mac (free) and iPhone ($25 – but worth it). It is an excellent tool for anyone in seminary learning languages – I use it for Greek, Latin, French, and also used it for the 4k word Barron’s Word List in preparation for the GRE. Second, Paradigmatic is a nice little resource for a quick presentation of conjugated Greek or Hebrew forms.

    I hope some of this helps. Good luck as you get started, and welcome to the “good guys”!

    • What benefit do you get from Devonthink? I’ve seen that one referenced in a few places, but I don’t know much about it.

      • I have not explored 90% of its capability, so you may want to do a bit more reading on Devonthink (I have read comments from grad students that are using it for their dissertation and say that it is a crucial tool for them).

        I find it exceptionally helpful in two ways. First, I can make all of my scanned docs and pdf’s scannable. I did this recently for a class at HDS – I scanned all of the works that we read as well as all of the lecture outlines and made them all searchable. This ties in with the second most valuable function – it has an exceptionally fast and thorough Boolean search function (what is Boolean? To me, it’s like major technological advances like the iPhone. I don’t know exactly what it is…but I know it kicks tail). Basically, when I search within DevonThink it instantaneously brings up all docs that contain the words in descending order of relevance. Thus, if I’m doing a paper on Origen’s concept of the “apokatastasis panton”, I can search that and everything I have ever come across with that phrase will appear. Spotlight works similar to this, but hasn’t been as thorough or as clean (in my experience).

        I think that they have a free trial that lasts about 30 hours (of time with the program open). You may just want to dl it and play with it for awhile. Either way, good luck! If you find a bunch of great functions within it, I would love to see you post on it and share the good news!

  2. Word Processor: I’m currently using Open Office. It’s pretty good. Since I upgraded to OSX Lion, my Microsoft Office for Mac no longer works, and I’m not ready to buy a newer version.

    Bible Software: I’m using Accordance and I love it!

    Research Manager: I’m playing with Zotero. I still don’t have it all figured out, but I can definitely see the potential.

  3. Stephen Leckvold

    Nice – way to go! I switched to Mac in 2006 and haven’t looked back since.

    Word Processor: I’m a fan of the Mac version of Microsoft Office, though I haven’t used the latest version (I’m running 2008). Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, Office does not have right to left (RTL) support for Hebrew etc., nor does MS plan on implementing it any time soon, which is both strange and frustrating. I wouldn’t waste your time with Pages. It has some nice features. Some templates are nice, and it does have RTL support. However, the tools and features seem strangely arcane; it is difficult to find certain tools, and it just doesn’t seem to be a very powerful processor. Though it has RTL support, the fonts (e.g. Hebrew with accents) don’t always line up as well as they do in other programs. Even TextEdit seems to make the Hebrew fonts look better! I use Nisus Writer Express/Pro for my Hebrew related typing. Its RTL support works better than anything else I’ve tried, and its a decent processor in general.

    Bible Software: I’ve only demo’d Accordance, and haven’t been impressed, but I’ll admit I cut my teeth on Logos. Logos 4 for the Mac is great. It’s a little different than the PC version, but solid. Logos is great for some things, but not for others. Also, I find that it’s a little sluggish. While indexing new resources, I can’t even use the computer because it lags my keystrokes and mouseclicks by 5-10 seconds. However, my Macs are a few years old, being some of the first dual cores, so I’m sure this wouldn’t be as problematic on a new Mac.

    Research Manager: No opinion yet. I have yet to dabble in these.

  4. Congratulations, Mark, on ascending the heights! I made the switch numerous years ago, and it’s been a delightful experience. I’ve never been displeased with the hardware or the software.

    As far as Word Processors (WP) are concerned, I think you will have to think of it tandem with what Bibliographic Tool you want to use. For example, I work a lot with RTL languages, and I do a lot of academic writing. I landed on Mellel as my processor, which works in conjunction with Bookends (although I think Bookends now supports other WPs). My advice is to start your next writing assignment in two or three programs that you foresee as being primary in your workflow. Discover the quirks, pros, and cons of each—then make a decision. Most of the WP are downloadable for a trial basis (even Bookends and Endnote have trial versions/time periods).

    When I first became a Mac user, I too defaulted to using Microsoft products. Two things made me depart from them: the more I grew in my semitic studies, the more I realized I needed a WP that would handle RTF. Second, I quickly realized that Microsoft products are a fail on the Mac platform. What I mean by fail is that I would continually encounter a program hang or crash, the Microsoft products are overtly slow on Macs. For journaling and creating media rich material, I use Pages and Keynote. These work well for creating handouts for Sunday School, and presentations for teaching (which can also be accessed from your iPad).

    As for Bible software, there are several options here. I would highly recommend that you consider Accordance Bible Software. It’s an extremely powerful program, which outshines Logos in many respects. If however you wanted to run Logos, I would highly recommend that you opt to run the Windows version on your Mac. You can purchase a program like VMWare Fusion, which enables you to run windows in a virtual environment. Before I became an Accordance User, I had invested several thousand dollars in the Greek and Hebrew resources for Logos. I still have the investment, but I am not a Windows user. Therefore, I tried the Mac version but was very disappointed with the performance of the App, and the convoluted UI for running searches. I’ve discovered that Logos is probably best thought of as a Library—not a research tool. Nevertheless, I purchased a copy of Windows 7 and access the Windows version of Logos in VMWare. By the way, there is no need to purchase virus protection for your virtual Windows environment. VMWare allows you to take a snap shot of your operating system. Should your Windows 7 environment become compromised, you can back up to your previous snap shot.

    As far as research manager is concerned, I use Bookends. I’ve tried Zotero, but don’t care for Firefox (and I’ve recently tried the stand alone, but it consistently crashed). As I adumbrated above, I use Bookends for it mashes well with Mellel. Mellel has citation manager in its info bar, that will enable you to import and reference (according to whatever format you desire), and then it creates a bibliography based on those references. I’ve been tempted to try Sente, but have yet to do so. Something to ponder is whether you keep the iPad, then Sente syncs between the iOS and Mac. One more caveat is needed here. I also use Delicious Library 2 (DL2). DL2 is not for academic purposes, but more serves an inventory. I keep an inventory of my entire house in DL2. It’s fantastic for keeping tabs on my book library, as it implements the iSight camera on your MacBook, enabling you to scan books by the UPC code. Once you scan new books, you can then export your library into Bookends.

    A few more things to consider:

    1. Learn Automator! Automator comes preinstalled on all Mac (OS X) operating systems. It’s a bit of learning curve, but before long you will nearly automate your entire workflow. It’s great for taking a PDF and creating a text to speech track for iTunes. With Lion’s newly improved Speech and Voice options (Daniel is my favorite), I create audio tracks of texts from Accordance (e.g., articles from Anchor Bible Dictionary, etc.) to listen to when I travel. Of course there are many other things Automator can do, but few people learn how to maximize on this awesome app.

    2. Consider purchasing Textexpander. This is a fantastic tool to reduce mundane typing. This will surely aid in you answering those many emails! 🙂

    3. Consider purchasing QuicKeys. QuicKeys has a learning curve, but the potential of this app is amazing!

    BTW, you can also follow my Mac Blog at The Mac Fellow. I also give in office/home tutorials on all things Macintosh, should you ever want some advice.

    • Wow, thanks for the thorough comment. I actually had to pull it out of the spam filter because it had so much good stuff. And, a special thanks for the “few more things” part. As someone who is new (again) to Macs, those kinds of suggestions are very helpful. I may well take you up on your offer for advice in the future.

  5. I use mellel for my wp. It’s fairly intuitive, it works great with the language work that I have to do (esp. Hebrew) and it can export into rtf and doc files.

    I use Bookends for my research manager. It’s good enough for me, though I’m aware I’m not using it to its full potential.

    I use Accordance for my Bible software. I really do think this is the best out there for actual textual work. Logos has more resources and Bible Works is a little cheaper and pretty good for working with texts but I prefer the Accordance platform and they seem to always have the most original texts and best resources of that nature.

    Good luck with the mac! Seriously, everyone dabbles with the dark side eventually.

  6. Traitor! (LOL) Here is an ACER for $679 with about the same specs as the Apple MacBook: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834215017

    I prefer PC’s for a variety of reasons. One is that with Apple, you pay extra for the brand name.

    • Although the brand name is certainly figured into the higher cost, there are other, more practical, factors. I would liken it to buying a Toyota or a Honda. You pay more and you receive: 1) higher reliability; and 2) better resale value.

    • I didn’t think that the Mac people would leave that comment unchallenged!

      I realize that I made a bit of a jump from $400-500 laptops to the Macbook air. There’s a slew of laptops in the $600-800 range that are less expensive but have similar features. My decision to leapfrog them for the moment comes from two factors. First, and most importantly, the Macbook remains among the best reviewed laptops in its price range. Indeed, to find a similar laptop getting comparable reviews, I’d have to pay even more! I just didn’t see anything in the $600-800 range that was getting comparable reviews. Second, but related, the cheapskate side of me is beginning to annoy the need-a-laptop-now side. If I’d seen a cheaper laptop that was getting rave reviews, I would have considered it. But, lacking that, I decided just to dive right in and see what all the fuss is about. Whether they were right is something yet to be determined.

  7. Hey, those are some great suggestions. Thanks everyone. It looks like I’ll have to give Mellel a close look. And I’ve now seen Bookends recommended in several places. So, I guess that needs to go on the list alongside Sente, Zotero, and Endnote.

    And, it looks like Accordance is getting a little more love than Logos. That surprises me a bit, but means that I should take a closer look at it. Accordance was actually my first Bible program way back in 1992(ish). So, maybe it’s time to close the circle?

  8. I would also echo Mellel for the word processor, Bookends for the research and Accordance for Bible Software. I have been really happy with them. I would definitely stay away from Microsoft Word as it always seems to have some problems.

  9. I thought you had envy in your eye as you watched me working my MacBook Pro at CAOS back in March…

    • Sorry, I thought I was being more discrete with my covetous glances. And, I hear Mac-envy has become such a widespread problem that they’ve included it as a psychological disorder in the DSM-5. Apparently I’ve ben struggling with it for a while.

  10. Dr. Marc, are you planning to work solely on the 11 in MBA? Or, do you have a desktop machine, or perhaps a keyboard and external monitor?

    • I’m pretty well covered in that department. I have a desktop system in my office and a monitor at home. If I keep the MBA, I’ll probably buy a keyboard and mouse for use at home.

  1. Pingback: I like my Mac; there, I said it out loud « scientia et sapientia

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