I try my best to get on with my fellow human beings. I’m a sociable sort of chap, within reason. I’m pretty tolerant of other peoples’ opinions. I don’t expect other people to be interested in everything I am, and it doesn’t worry me too much if they turn out to be fascinated by things that I find bizarre or simply unininteresting. And since I’ve never been one to go with the crowd just for the sake of it, it doesn’t get me down if I’m left out when others enjoy something I find boring.

But there are a few things that sometimes make me feel like I was born on a different planet. Nothing drives home this feeling of alienation more than listening to people talk about Apple products, especially the dreaded Mac computers. Stephen Fry is the worst culprit, publically slavering over his Macs – I believe he owns several – to an extent that severely jeopardises his status as English National Treasure.

The Apple fraternity is particularly prominent in Astronomy. Go to an astronomy conference and you’re likely to find gaggles of them drooling over each other’s laptops and notebooks. You’re also likely to be sitting in the audience twiddling your thumbs for ages while one of the speakers fiddles about trying to get their computer to work with the data projector. If that happens, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s a Mac that’s to blame.

Macs are brilliant, you hear their owners say. Well, perhaps they are almost as good as real computers, except you need to bring special adaptors to connect them to anything at all, you won’t be able to use the internet, the software isn’t compatible with this that and the other, they’re roughly twice the price of a PC with equivalent (or better) capabilities, and the hard disk is almost certain to seize after about a year. But so what if they don’t work as well as a proper machine? If you have one, you have a passport to Nerd Nirvana. In the kingdom of the geeks, it’s the geek with a Mac that is king.

I hope you’ll forgive me for not jumping aboard the Mac Bandwagon (Applecart?). I just don’t get it. Otherwise intelligent people have tried to convert me and succeeded only in scaring me. It’s the glazed eyes and puerile obsessiveness that does it. A Mac must come with some sort of brainwashing device that makes owners blind to its obvious limitations. I hope there’s a cure, otherwise the MacZombies will take over the world.

It’s not just Macs, of course, but all the gadgets prefixed by the dreaded “i”: iPod, iPhone, iPad, iNeedaweewee and iDunnowhat.

I do have an iPod, in fact. It’s fine. No better and no worse than an ordinary MP3 player, of course, but perfectly OK for its purpose. Apart from the earphones,  which are deliberately manufactured to be entirely useless so you have to go and buy proper ones straight away.

Incidentally, I never never got around to filing a patent for my invention, the uPod. This is a similar device to an iPod, but the wearer of the earphones experiences perfect silence while the uPod broadcasts an annoying tinny racket to everyone within a 10-metre radius. It  is designed for use in the quiet coach on a train.

The software you have to use with an iPod  is quite another thing. I’m thoroughly sick of iTunes, which I believe to be controlled by aliens with the intention of destroying the Earth. It keeps taking over my computer and insisting that it is it and nothing else that should control all my media files. Moreover, update your iTunes with care. You can’t undo the upgrade and the likelihood is your new software won’t be compatible with your old iPod. An evil trick to make you buy new hardware. Shame on you, Apple.

A Crapple Device

On the other hand, I don’t have an iPhone and have no intention of getting one. I know people who have them and show me all the “apps” they have on it. Fine. I hope there’s an app for finding a job after you get sacked for playing with your iPhone all the time instead  of doing your work. Give me my  Blackberry over your  iPhone, anytime.

And as for the iPad, there are only two problems with it. It’s too small for a doorstop and too big for a paperweight.

You’re probably wondering what caused me to vent my spleen about the evil empire of Crapple. Up until today I’ve kept quiet about my feelings lest I appear a bit weird. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m the very epitome of normality. But today I read something that has put me in touch with my inner Luddite and given me the  inner strength to stand up and speak out against the obvious threat to our civilisation caused by these Apple gizmos and the people they control.

Today’s excellent new issue of Private Eye has a new cartoon strip – called iBores – which takes a brave stand against the Menace of the Mac. It’s a must-read for all Mac addicts, and just may save the human race from Apple oblivion. The fightback starts today.

53 Responses to “iBores”

  1. Saw Marcus Brigstock during his God Collar tour late last year.

    He had a good natured go at the iPhone users, suggesting that the obsessive one fingered fiddling looked decidedly like ‘wanking the gerbil’. He then had a pop at the Blackberry crowd for balance.

  2. mea culpa

    Although I am frustrated at times with the lack of “getting in there and mucking about a bit more”.

    My excuse for having one – being a teaching academic – I use unix, the university sends me word documents and excel spreadsheets. When I moved over, several years ago, linux just could not handle the admin side properly, and I found myself constantly rebooting between linux and windows. It was, quite frankly, an utter pain in the ar*e. OS X offered an instantaneous solution.

    Linux may have evolved (and I have just gotten two ubuntu boxes at home to investigate this) – but the convenience is there in front of me, and moving back seems quite unlikely.

    (this is being typed on an old mac book pro we’ve given to the kids – so we are infecting the next generation).

  3. telescoper Says:

    Unfortunately, Mac software buggers up Word documents. It causes no end of problems with our examinations which, for some reason, have to be written in Word. Equations are a nightmare with ersatz versions of word.

    I have a machine that runs both Linux and Windows, without having to reboot. Simples.

  4. We can write our exams in latex, but all uni discussion papers are in word. I use microsoft word under mac os x and personally have had no problems (unlike our university admin if you send them a pdf file, which they continually claim is “corrupted”).

    >> I have a machine that runs both Linux and Windows, without having to reboot. Simples.

    Just before I moved to the dark side, several years ago, I had this also – but at the time there was no end of problems – from not being able to properly mount each partition, permissions problems etc – as I said, it may have all been ironed out, and now may be excellent, but frustration drove me over the edge.

  5. Astrofairy Says:

    We can use latex for Cardiff exams -there is even a template. I’m with cusp. I can run python starlink basically anythig which can be done on unix aswell as doing word excel. Incidentally I’ve never had problems converting with mac and word whixh i do probably on daily basis. Only whensome people from the dark ages using
    office. The best thing about macs is time machine, the most simple and useful incremental back up system I have ever used. I would not be without one.

    • telescoper Says:

      The problem I have found is that if you write a Word document on a PC (i.e. using Word) and then transfer it to a Mac (or vice-versa) the formatting is always wrong and the equations are garbled. This is a problem if you have to write an examination jointly with someone else (mentioning no names).

  6. Rob Ivison Says:

    “I hope there’s an app for finding a job after you get sacked for playing with your iPhone all the time instead of doing your work.”

    a bit rich from a daily blogger, or did i miss the tongue poking through your cheek? 🙂

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    Nice diatribe Peter. As for me, I absolutely and totally refuse to have any strong feelings whatsoever about the issue of Macs vs PCs.

  8. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Macs all the way. Since OS X came out I’ve stopped using Linux. It is true that equations and formatting between Mac and PC versions of a Word documents get garbled, but this is Microsoft’s fault not Apple’s. If we all used OpenOffice there’d be no problem. Macs are far more stable than PCs. I have a 6 year old iPod and it works fine with the latest version of iTunes on my Mac….

  9. telescoper Says:


    I do blog almost every day, but that’s not because I don’t do my work. It’s because I haven’t got a life.


  10. Benjamin Says:

    I’ve been reading (and enjoying) this blog for something like 3 years now, but this post is just plain stupid. You’ve obviously never used a mac.
    > You’re also likely to be sitting in the audience twiddling your thumbs
    > for ages while one of the speakers fiddles about trying to get their
    > computer to work with the data projector. If that happens, you can
    > bet your bottom dollar that it’s a Mac that’s to blame.
    Just last week I was at a conference (on grid computing). For some reason they were switching the projecting laptop with every speaker. So one after the other the guys would bring their mac laptops, plug them in, and project. There was not a single problem with any mac. The only problem occured when the guy with the linux notebook came, and could only project a distorted image.
    Please note that I agree with many of your points on annoying Apple fanboys and gadgets. What I’m talking about is using OSX.

  11. Daniel Mortlock Says:

    I wrote this comment with pen and paper but had great difficulty uploading it. (Nothing is completely backwards compatible.)

  12. telescoper Says:

    Nice to see so many people rising to the bait…

  13. telescoper Says:


    I used to use a Mac, but that was a long time ago and I grew out of it.


  14. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Check out


    Mac OSX is by far a superior operating system to Windows, and slicker than Linux. I used Linux (and Sun Solaris) from 1996 through to about 2002 when I switched to using OSX. Macs just work, seamlessly.

  15. telescoper Says:

    Macs work (just)…

    ..I’ve checked my PC thoroughly and didn’t find any seams on it either.

  16. John Peacock Says:

    Peter and others,

    The missing piece here is VMWare Fusion. Fantastic software for $50 that lets you run all your favourite PC programs inside the Mac. So all the Office-related problems disappear and you have the best of all worlds (OK, Macs are not cheap, but you get what you pay for with laptops).

    And on a vaguely related note, did you see Stephen Fry’s wonderful BBC4 programme on Wagner and the Nazis the other night? There are parallels with Mac mania here. Both Apple and Wagner have their dark sides, but in both cases you can come to terms with the negatives and realise that you’re still left with something incomparably greater than the competition (Windows PCs and shallow Italian opera respectively).


  17. John Peacock Says:

    typo: … negatives and realise …

    No way to edit one’s posts???

  18. telescoper Says:

    Hmmph. I like Bel Canto. I can see the parallel with Wagner, though. One or two wonderful highlights but very expensive and time-consuming…

    To show I’m a nice chap really, I’ve corrected your typo anyway.

  19. Anton Garrett Says:

    John: I remain agnostic on Macs vs Everybody Else, but on opera then Yes, hear hear (tho I hope you like the Mozart/da Ponte trilogy).

    Bel canto = Can belto?


  20. Rhodri Evans Says:

    John – isn’t there also something called Bootstrap which is free that allows you to run PC software on a Mac? I’ve never used it as I’ve never felt the need to run any PC programs. The Word corruption problem can be circumvented to a certain extent by the Mac user sending the PC user a PDF version of the Word document. Or use Latex 🙂

  21. stringph Says:

    I thought Cardiff had already paid for the genuine article Microsoft Office suite in Mac-compatible versions.

    At least, that’s what I’m running on mine and I think they’re legal! Do my expenses on Excel, make posters in PowerPoint and occasionally deal with uni or EU documents in Word – no OpenOffice clunkiness necessary.

  22. John Peacock Says:

    Anton: Figaro, Magic Flute etc. isn’t opera (and certainly not Italian opera); it’s Mozart – in a class of its own.

    Peter: I never said a dislike of Wagner made you other than a nice chap. I’m glad you like a few bits, and I hope the infection will spread from those nuclei. Since the Ring isn’t expanding (18 hours is enough, even for me), these domains should percolate eventually.

    Don’t know about bootstrap – but VMWare Fusion is as good as free anyway.

    The Office issues aren’t so much about Word as powerpoint. There are two big deficiencies with powerpoint in the Mac implementation: (1) You can’t paste images in direct from your web browser (or, you can, but they won’t display if the ppt is used on a PC); (2) TexPoint doesn’t work on a Mac (although it claims it does). This is the only efficient way to get maths content into ppt. Between them, these differences make it about 10 times slower to make fully compatible ppt using Mac Powerpoint. And it has to be compatible, so you can share it with collaborators. And no I don’t want to convert to Keynote: I hear good things, and maybe it’s the way to go if starting fresh – but I have >10 years of accumulated ppt slides that I don’t want to throw away, or mess up by trying to convert to Keynote.

  23. Anton Garrett Says:

    John: I’ve never seen Don Giovanni described as “etc” before, but I know you mean it as a compliment and I entirely agree.

  24. Grumpy Old Woman Says:

    Our IT people recently offered me a Macnook to replace my current laptop (which is on its last legs). When I pointed out that from the mini-spec they sent me the Mac weighed almost twice as much as the current machine (a significant consideratoin for me), they said “Oh, but if you come and look at it instead of just reading the spec, you might feel differently”. Is this a new physics? How does it work? (Never seems to do so when I stare at my hand luggage trying to will it to come in under weight…..”)

  25. Grumpy Old Woman Says:

    Oops – that’s Macbook, of course… must get some glasses…..

  26. Grumpy Old Woman Says:

    Well, but if it makes things get lighter just by looking at them……….

  27. Anton Garrett Says:

    Grumpy Old Woman: It is filled with helium gas, of course…

  28. telescoper Says:

    Perhaps they work on phlogiston?

  29. Adrian Burd Says:


    For getting equations into Powerpoint/Keynote, I use LatexIt which is free (part of the MacTex distribution) and works fine.


  30. Anton Garrett Says:

    In 1992 the versatile US theoretical physicist Tom Grandy made his presentation at the 1992 Maximum Entropy conference in Paris via a computer he had brought, using software that he had written himself long before PowerPoint. It gave trouble, of course – he added computers to animals and children as things that will always upstage you – but it was still an impressive glimpse of what would obviously be the future.

  31. Rhodri Evans Says:

    I too have found numerous incompatabilities between the Mac and PC versions of PowerPoint. But I don’t see these problems with Microsoft’s Office software as a reason to rubbish Macs and their Operating System. To my knowledge, most astronomical software only works on various Unix platforms, so if you use a PC you have to have Linux on it. I haven’t used Linux in about 3 years (no need to with a Mac), but last time I did a reboot was required to use Windows software like the ubiquitous Office. Has this now changed?

  32. John Peacock Says:


    TexPoint is hugely superior to LatexIt:

    * It embeds the tex code for equations into the presentation, and you can edit this later directly.

    * Critically, it also lets you type tex commands into ppt text boxes: very often you want some maths formatting (sub or superscripts e.g.) but don’t want to make a separate full tex equation box. This alone makes for a huge efficiency gain, and is a completely different feature from what LatexIt offers.


  33. @John

    Or use Suns VirtualBox for free. I run both windows and linux in it with no issues.

  34. Adrian Burd Says:


    I can see in principle that Texpoint would be superior to Latexit, but it seems from the webpage that the limitations with Texpoint on the Mac are just too numerous to make it worth it. Whilst it is inconvenient to keep making the equations in Latexit, I’ve never had problems using them in different version of Powerpoint on the Mac (Office X or 2004) or transferring them to Windows machines. To me, that alone overcomes the other hassles.

    I do realize that you don’t want to hear it, but for presentations and lectures that will only see my machines, I use Keynote. Also, several oceanographic societies provide Macs with Keynote installed for presentations at conferences, so it’s a breeze to deal with. It wasn’t too bad converting Powerpoint presentations to Keynote, and if you have defined a set of styles, then it’s even easier – only minor tweaks were needed, something that could be done whilst watching TV or whilst on a plane.


  35. Macs are rubbish. Yesterday a 500ml bottle of water leaked all over mine and it barely works today.

  36. Mark McCaughrean Says:

    Each to their own, Peter, but I find the anti-Apple/Mac/OSX/iThing position to be just as indefensibly dogmatic, boring, and twice as curmudgeonly as the Steve Jobs fanboi one. Most of what you say about price, compatibility, networking, and iTunes (which is only a pig on Windows machines) is nonsense and/or years out of date.

    I somehow doubt that what appears to be more than half of all astrophysicists have switched to Macs simply to be trendy. After all, those in our generation all started off with Vaxes and VMS, but switched to Unix on Solaris machines (or in some cases Windows on PCs) when it became possible to have one on your own desk. Then came Linux. In each case, quite some investment of time and energy was needed to make the switch (it took lots of alcohol to persuade my cortex to forget EDT and learn vi), and I doubt many did it simply to be hip and cool.

    Ditto the ongoing switch to Macs among astronomers: bottom line is that they’re Unix machines that process data, and which seamlessly also do all the other stuff you need / want to do in life, particularly if you’re on the road a lot.

    I used to own a Sony Vaio running Windows, a Sun workstation running Solaris, and a Linux box running, well, whatever variation of RedHat or ninety seven other flavours was around at the time. What a bloody nightmare to even think about keeping in sync, let alone trying to figure out the (then) stupidly arcane world of Linux software downloading.

    I replaced them all with a Powerbook and now a MacBook Pro, and have not once thought of changing back. It’s the only machine I have and it’s the only one I need. (OK, I admit that I also have a 30 inch display on my desk, but that’s different).

    Oh, and I was issued with a BlackBerry when I arrived at ESA: loathsome little thing with a truly awful OS. I tried for two weeks, couldn’t even work out how to change the clock, but then took the SIM out and stuck it in an unlocked iPhone. Again, have not looked back.

    What I’ve never understood is that most critics (although perhaps not you, if you’re a Linux fan) of the growing Apple monopoly are Windows users. Kettle, meet pot.

    Evangelism over. Relax … 

  37. telescoper Says:

    New adjective for Apple fans: Touchy-wheely.


  38. John Peacock Says:

    Hey Mark: emacs does EDT emulation, so part of my daily computing still retains the glory that was VMS. The only downside is that editing on a laptop is less efficient because you don’t have all the shortcuts on the numeric keypad. Or being more positive: editing on a desktop machine is matchlessly fast.

  39. telescoper Says:

    My first experience of serious computing – not in an academic context, but working for British Gas in Cramlington in 1980 – involved Vax machines running VMS. I still think it was a brilliant operating system, not just because it gave me a massive headstart in using Starlink when I decided to do a PhD 5 years later.

    VMS is obviously dated now, but was a masterpiece in its time. Its designers should be proud.

  40. Anton Garrett Says:

    Our school had access to a PDP-8 at UMIST through one of the governors who was a prof there, and in summer 1973 I went through a period of intense infatuation with digital computers and their programming, writing programmes longhand for the PDP-8 in my bedroom till sunrise. Thankfully I came out the other side and realised that computers are tools, not ends in themselves.

    Our school also had an analog computer that had been put together from UMIST spare bits by a 6th form wizard. It ran with valves at high voltages and was a health and safety nightmare. Those were the days!


  41. Rob Fender Says:

    A few years ago I was intrigued by the massive uptake in Macs amongst astronomers so I got one. I used it, running OS X, more or less in parallel with another laptop running Ubuntu. About a year ago the Mac packed in without warning and I was looking around for a new laptop. I was very nearly seduced by a new shiny Mac, especially with the edgeless glass screen (ooooh), but basically realised that I much prefer Ubuntu to OS X and that it was the *hardware* not the software that was drawing me towards a new Mac. I think John P made a similar comment on AndyXL’s blog a while back. So, I decided to stay with Ubuntu. Its brilliant, and evolving a lot faster than either Mac OS or Windows (actually I don’t have much recent experience with Windows other than periodically having to fix my Mum’s PC). Now perhaps I prefer Ubuntu to Mac OS because its nirvana for my inner geek with all those settings to change, but I really think that for a lot of people its the – admittedly beautiful – hardware (and perhaps a bit of peer pressure) that gets people into Macs. Plus, I suppose, frustrating previous experiences with Linux in the past (fair enough). Macs are OK, but Ubuntu is better. For me. Aaargh I can’t believe I got drawn into this….

  42. telescoper Says:

    Perhaps at last we have direct evidence of the economic impact of investment in astronomy. Massive profits for Apple!

  43. Bryn Jones Says:

    Regrettably, I have virtually no experience of Apple products, and cannot comment on the merits of Macs, OS X, iPods or iPhones. When I wanted a portable MP3 player, I decided on a solid state one with an FM radio and therefore bought a Sansa Fuze: no iPods had radio receivers at that time. I have seriously considered buying a Macbook in the past, but found that PCs offered incomparably better value: a basic Macbook sells (or used to sell) for a similar price as a very serious PC laptop, which means very much more PC disk space and memory for the price.

    So I have chosen to use PC architecture, and partitioned the disk to install Linux. I am typing this on a triple-boot system: it has the Windows that it came with (which I hardly ever use), Scientific Linux (a variant on Red Hat Enterprise Linux) and Ubuntu Linux. I find Ubuntu works well and I use it most of the time. The disadvantage is that partitioning a disk, installing new operating systems and other software is not a task for beginners. It requires a lot of effort to get to work decently, whereas Macs just work (or so I’ve been told).

    Similarly, I have minimal experience of PowerPoint: I use OpenOffice. There are equation editors for it (such as OOoLatex, though I have only recently installed it so can’t comment on how well it works yet).

    We have all witnessed talks where figures have been absent from presentations, and even replaced by red saltires on white backgrounds. So always take a PDF version as well.

    The efficiency of editing with the TPU editor and an EDT keypad under VMS on Vax computers was astonishing. You could write code very quickly, although I did suffer from repetitive strain injury on my right hand on a few occasions.

    My understanding of the reason for the conversion from Vaxes to Unix systems in the mid 1990s was that it was driven by cost, that Sun computers were much cheaper than the Vax equivalents. The process was traumatic for me: I had been a competent, highly efficient VMS user, but then found myself a naive beginner struggling with Unix, barely able to write a “Hello, World” program.

    So, why is it worth paying so much more for Apple Macs?

  44. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip: Surely decisions like that are not taken unilaterally by administrators but also by profs, who understand the implications (lost time, extra effort, etc)?

  45. Bryn Jones Says:

    A feature of science policy in universities over the past few decades is that very little account is given to human experience, at least at levels away from the top end of the career ladder. The assumption is that the people who do detailed computing tasks will be Ph.D. students or postdoctoral researchers, who have career timescales of several years. Switching operating systems is not seen as a major problem, because the new intake of human resources would have to learn an operating system anyway.

  46. Anton Garrett Says:

    Bryn: Understood. Does anybody else feel a shiver down the spine at the phrase “human resources”? Is that not how the Nazis viewed people?

  47. Bryn Jones Says:


    That’s not a parallel I’m going to make, but there is a very utilitarian attitude to people’s talents and potential contributions in modern society. It is very true in academic policy making.


  48. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Isn’t the term Human Resources now universally used where once places talked about personnel?

  49. […] thing he mentioned that struck me was about Apple computers. As you all probably know I’m not a particular fan of Macs and the like, which together with my more general Luddite inclinations, probably explains […]

  50. […] to do so. Some of my colleagues have Macs and/or iPads, but I don’t. I think Apple kit is overpriced and gimmicky, but some of my colleagues go even further and consider Apple corp to be an intrinsically evil […]

  51. […] am not the sort of chap who’s likely to get involved in the PC versus Mac controversy. Except occasionally. And with great reluctance. It doesn’t do any good to take sides in such conflicts. I […]

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