Interview with Christopher Breen


iLounge recently had the opportunity to interview Christopher Breen, the author of Secrets of the iPod, the first book published about Apple’s iPod. Christopher is a contributing editor for MacWorld magazine and writes the Mac 911 column. He also authored, Mac 911, the book on tips and troubleshooting OS 9 and OS X.

The lighthearted interview has Christopher talking about his exciting moments as a Mac user, why it is okay to own a minivan, and the difference between a Celine Dion Copy Protected CD, a bottle of medium-grade hooch, and Secrets of the iPod. Prepare to explore the mind of a fellow Mac enthusiast and see why we “Think Different”.

How long have you been a Mac User?

I bought my first Mac in 1986.

What was your first Mac and what is your current Mac?

The first was a 512Ke that had been upgraded from an original 128K Mac. I later upgraded it to a Plus and, finally, to the FrankenMac—a Mac with a 68030 processor upgrade. It was ultimately the most expensive Mac I ever owned.

I currently use a few different Macs. I recently purchased a 933MHz Power Mac G4, which runs Mac OS X exclusively. I use a 400MHz TiBook on the road and with my iPod (it runs both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X). I use a 450MHz Blue & White for my OS 9-only stuff.

Do you have any story of an experience where your Mac and iPod saved the day?

My Mac and iPod save the day on a regular basis. I write a troubleshooting column for Macworld magazine called Mac 911 and due to the nature of the column, I spend a fair amount of time messing up Macs and, hopefully, fixing them. In my Mac repair tool kit I carry an Emergency CD and my iPod—both of which are bootable and contain my troubleshooting and repair utilities. When I need to resurrect a Mac that I’ve badly hosed—and that Mac includes a FireWire port—I boot from the iPod and run the diagnostic/repair utilities on it. Unlike most portable FireWire drives, my iPod consistently boots my Macs.

What is your most exciting moment as a Mac user?

There have been a lot of exciting moments—seeing my name appear for the first time in MacUser, for example—but here’s one from not too long ago. At one time I appeared pretty frequently on TechTV’s Call for Help, presenting a Mac tip of the day. At that time Leo Laporte was still hosting the show. Every so often I’d show Leo something that was just so cool (and couldn’t easily be done—or done at all—on a PC) that his eyes would light up. It wasn’t too long before he was talking about getting his first new Mac in years. I, in no way, take credit for rekindling Leo’s love for the Mac—that credit goes to Apple alone—but it was very cool to watch the transformation (and get a bit of validation for being a Mac user from someone I respect).

What Mac software do you use the most and least?

I live on email so my email client (currently Entourage) is constantly running. And because I get a lot of spam (who doesn’t?) Matterform’s anti-spam utility, Spamfire, is also in my Startup Items folder and part of my Login Items.

Least? Barring programs I never run at all (as someone living with a fairly severe mathematics impairment I’ve never had a use for Mathematica, for example), I’d have to say The Sims. Don’t get me wrong, I think The Sims (and all its add-ons) are wonderful, but when it got to the point that my sims’ lives were more interesting (and time-consuming) than my own, I had to delete the application.

When you first took your new iPod out of the box and held it in your hand, what was your reaction?

When I first opened the box I was struck by how beautiful the thing was. I’d seen the pictures and videos but until you see one in person you have no idea how elegant the iPod is. When I picked it up for the first time I was surprised at how heavy it was. I don’t mean to imply the iPod is a brick. It isn’t. It just feels solidly built—far more so than other MP3 players I’ve mucked about with.

Have you ever talked to Steve Jobs? If so, please explain the circumstances.

Nope, Mr. Jobs and I have never met.

Have you named your iPod yet? If not, name it now, and let us know what the name is and why.

It’s called Mira and is so called for a few reasons. Reason 1 is that a good machine, like a good boat, is usually of the female persuasion. Reason 2 is because Mira “mirrors” my hard drive and CD collection. And finally, it’s Mira after Santa Mira, the host community of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where the town’s residents are taken over by “pods.”

You’re stuck on a deserted island. All you have is your iPod and one album of MP3’s. What album is it and why?

Man, that’s a tough one. Probably Sunday at the Village Vanguard by the Bill Evans Trio. Before I was a fulltime writer, I made my living playing the piano. I greatly admire the jazz pianist Bill Evans but haven’t a clue how he did what he did. While you can’t miss that he’s a thoughtful and romantic player, I don’t understand his language—the musical vocabulary he uses. I imagine having nothing to listen to but that album would be both nourishing and educational.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

I’m rereading an omnibus of “Lucia” novels by E.F. Benson—a collection called Make Way For Lucia. It’s a pointed, humorous, and occasionally wicked look at the elite of a small English village in the 1920s and ‘30s. I usually have at least one P.G. Wodehouse book open (another English humorist), and I’m threatening to re-reread Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring tales.

What is the most obscure application you have used your iPod for?

Storing the Spanish translation of the phrase “Meatballs, didn’t I tell you?” (


Dennis Lloyd

I'm a passionate, long-time lover of Apple products, and was a civil draftsman and graphic designer before creating the iLounge web site. My prior projects include work for The Los Angeles Times', and the company Creative Domain, where I developed websites for clients including Columbia Pictures, Disney, Fox Studios, Universal Pictures and Warner Brothers. As the Publisher of iLounge, I direct the site's community forums, photo galleries, iPod User Group, and general business affairs, which have grown under my watch to over sixteen million page views every month. I'm happily married with one daughter, one dog (Rocket the Wonderdog), one cat (Ferris), many iPods, iPhones, iPads, and two turntables.