Never hear the end of it Sunday, April 15, 2007

How, exactly, did I miss Sloan over the last 10 years?

WM/UIQ/WTF Friday, April 13, 2007

I freely admit, right at the start of this post, that I switch cell phones too often. A lot of this is because I try to do a lot with my mobile phone, mostly mail and web based. And I want the thing to work well with my Mac, and to be a phone: I don't really want a two-inch-thick "communication controller" on a belthook.

At the same time, I don't want a tiny screen or a crappy browser, and I need a decent way to input text.

I've had generally good luck with the recent generation Windows Mobile "smartphone" devices (like the T-Mobile Dash, aka the HTC Excalibur), but the version of Internet Explorer in them is pretty limited, and replying to support questions can be frustrating because of those limitations.

Some time ago, I'd purchased a Sony Ericsson M600i, which looked like it was going to be a good'un: good size, design, keyboard and capabilities. Unfortunately, at least 3/4 of a year ago, it seriously sucked. The design is good, but the version of UIQ3 it originally shipped with was buggy beyond words: the email program crashed constantly, disconnected from email, etc. The browser was capable, but it crashed all the time, too. And, to top it off, the thing wouldn't sync with the Mac.

It didn't last long... until I took it back out of the box last week.

After applying Sony Ericsson's recent software update (R9F011 for the curious), UIQ3 has taken a huge step into reliabilityland. All of a sudden, the applications are no longer crashing. Mail, while limited by some boneheaded design choices, works. The web browser has been updated, and it's fast and capable: it even renders some relatively complex stuff on the Shirt Pocket site.

On top of that, Kerio Mailserver has finally implemented support for the M600i's OTA ActiveSync (Exchange) support, so events, mail, contacts, etc are pushed to the device automatically. Combined with a new iSync plugin, the thing works with my Mac pretty well: transparent two-way sync is awfully compelling.

Not phone nirvana, but a nice set of updates combining to deliver a greatly improved experience. It'll be interesting to see how the iPhone measures up. If the "Push" support is only for Yahoo mail (I'm hoping that it properly supports IMAP IDLE), it doesn't do OTA sync, and it doesn't support a vibrant 3rd party community (that gives us Apple Design Award-winning products like Salling Clicker), its cool touchscreen and attractive UI won't really make up for its lack of capability.

Demo vs. reality -- always fun. We'll have to see in June.

Congratulations, Iron Man! Tuesday, April 03, 2007

It looks like Ben Gottlieb, the world's most productive developer (and recently married man, has taken his first Mac application and won Iron Coder V with it!

Big congratulations to Ben on his well deserved win -- Mac users will no doubt be benefiting from his skills as time goes on. Rather appropriate that the man responsible for Workout Tracker would win "Iron Coder"...

Regaining a customer Monday, April 02, 2007

I love the convenience of the iTunes Music Store: it's well organized, easy to find stuff, and generally nicely done. But, after experiencing the restrictions (which aren't bad within iTunes or iPods, but quite awful with other devices, like a Slim Devices' Squeezebox or the Sonos), I decided that DRM-encumbered tracks were too restrictive given the multitude of ways that I listen to my music.

Not to mention the fact the the 128K AAC encoded songs are audibly inferior to a CD, which costs about the same.

Not an easy decision. I hate buying a CD, ripping it, then storing it: so much pointless plastic taking up space in the basement. But, choices are choices, and I made mine.

That said, I was delighted to see the EMI/Apple announcement this morning. 256K AAC tracks, no DRM. No plastic. Same price for albums, slightly more for tracks.

Great news, and by taking this step, Apple and EMI have brought me back to buying through iTMS, at least for EMI artists.

My basement thanks you.

Small change, big impact Sunday, March 25, 2007

Apple can sometimes make small changes that have unexpected consequences.

Take Partition Schemes, for example.

This is the kind of thing most Mac users never think about. You buy a drive, plug it in, drive comes up, things work.

Done.

What you probably don't know is that most drives came partitioned and formatted for Windows, even when the drive is listed as "Mac Compatible", typically using Master Boot Record as the partition scheme and FAT32 as the format.

Before OSX 10.4.6 or so, this wasn't a big deal, at least for SuperDuper! Since FAT32 isn't appropriate for storing Mac files with full fidelity (and has various other issues, like file size limits, etc), we would instruct the user to erase the drive, using HFS+ (Mac OS Extended) as the format. Disk Utility wouldn't allow HFS+ volumes to be hosted on Master Boot Record partitioned drives, and so the user would need to select the drive, rather than the volume, and erase that way. No big deal.

Then, the Intel Macs came out, and with them, 10.4.6.

To help with something-or-other (probably to allow HFS+ and FAT32 volumes to be hosted on the same drive in separate partitions for Boot Camp users), Apple decided to change Disk Utility so that it allows HFS+ volumes to be hosted on Master Boot Record partitioned disks. Which I'm sure didn't seem like a big deal: in fact, it's quite convenient, and had probably been requested as a feature over the years.

All that's great, except for one thing: Macs don't support starting up from Master Boot Record volumes.

This is clearly not a big deal for most users. But, for SuperDuper! users (and, I'm sure, for those who use similar applications) it's been a big problem: drives that look like they should act as startup volumes won't, and the reason is really obscure.

Suddenly, users who used to use Disk Utility to erase a drive now have to head to the Partition tab (which doesn't even appear if you select the volume instead of the hosting drive), click Options, understand the 3 partition types, and partition their drive appropriately.

So, this one small change -- allow HFS+ volumes on Master Boot Record partitioned drives -- ends up having a pretty big impact on users with external drives. This is mostly due to its implementation (and lack of documentation).

Worse, users aren't steered to the right choice by Disk Utility. In fact, the default is to do the absolutely wrong thing for most: retain a Windows partition scheme.

This probably hasn't had much of an impact on Apple's support, but it's sure hurt here!

This American Life Friday, March 23, 2007

I've listened to This American Life for years on NPR: it's a great radio show. And now, they've managed to add a TV version to their portfolio. It's on Showtime, and is both new and remarkably faithful to the original vision.

Showtime has been good enough to put the first show up for free on their web site.

Enjoy!

Bye bye, Buddy Friday, March 23, 2007

I've just heard that Rich and Kerri have lost Rufus, their nearly 14-year old dog.

Buddy was 13. He'd had a very good run. (Most of it through the water!) He was, hands-down, the best dog I ever knew, or had even heard of. He was fun and playful, loved everyone, and was immensely obedient...for most of his adult life, he never even needed a leash. He never ran away (except to sneak a couple of houses away to my mother's to mooch cookies), he never bit anyone, he never even jumped on people...he always came when you called him. He brought the paper in every morning -- he'd even do his level best with the Sunday paper. He brought me bottles of water when I was laid up with a broken ankle. He let kids pet him and let babies pull his ears and tail and fur, and never once complained. Oh, and that bark -- he sounded awfully scary, protecting his family like a sentry. Never had a problem with his hips, his eyes, his elbows...nothing.

Everyone who met Buddy loved him. I'm really going to miss him.

(Kerri, on her blog.)

Zabeth and I know this all too well -- our thoughts and love are with them.

Apple TV - codename:tv Friday, March 23, 2007

tv is in the house -- two of them, actually -- and, well, it's good!

I'm not using it for music much -- my library is much too large for this device, and navigation of large collections, as has been said elsewhere, is quite lacking.

That said, for video material -- movies, tv shows, etc -- it works great. Playback starts quickly, even when streamed, and looks quite good. It's lacking in the audio department (it's really too bad that so much of this material, both movies and TV, encoded with Dolby Digital in full 5.1 or 7.1 surround, are reduced to ancient Dolby Surround playback, with no LFE channel, no split surrounds... much less impact), but visually things look quite reasonable.

It works great with netTunes, too, as you'd expect. As I've said many times, I run with a headless server, and it contains all my music and other content. With netTunes, it's trivial to connect to the server using a laptop while seated on the couch, and "pair" the tv with the server, change the synchronization information, purchase TV shows to be viewed -- all remotely.

I'm happy that the approach I took years ago -- truly remote controlling iTunes with its own interface -- continues to work with new versions of iTunes, and continues to prove it was the right way to go, moving forward with iTunes as iTunes itself changes.

Anyway, great stuff.

One expensive but potentially useful tip: you can use a scan converter to convert from Component input to regular Y/C (S-Video) or Composite, should you not have a component/HDMI capable TV. One example is the TV One AVT-3190 ($389). Expensive, but cheaper than replacing your TV...

Infrant Expansion Sunday, March 18, 2007

The other day, I was pushing at the limits of my existing Infrant ReadyNAS NV setup, and needed to increase its size. Normally, this would be a huge project, but with the ReadyNAS it was incredibly easy to do.

You see, the ReadyNAS uses Infrant's proprietary X-RAID. X-RAID basically RAID 6RAID 5 (see comments, below) with the ability to dynamically increase the total size of the RAID as well.

So, not only will the ReadyNAS run with a single drive faiure (and hot-rebuild the drive), it can dynamically increase the size of the RAID set as well. So, all I had to do was:

  1. Buy four drives of the appropriate size. I went from four 250GB drives with a total size of about 700GB, to four 500GB drives with a total size of about 1.6TB.

    The reason you don't get "all" the space on the drives is because redundant information is spread across each drive that allows any drive that goes "down" to be replaced and rebuilt with no data loss.

  2. With the ReadyNAS on, and in use, pull out the first of the four drives.

    Yeah. Scary. But that's what to do!

  3. Unscrew the four screws that attach the SATA drive to the tray from and attach it to the new.

  4. Slide the new drive into place.

    At this point, the ReadyNAS will automatically rebuild the data that was on the original drive on this new drive. All of this has been done with the unit on and operating.

  5. Wait for the rebuild to complete (it'll send you email when it's done).

  6. Repeat with the next drive.

Yeah. That's it. When you're done, you do need to restart the ReadyNAS to get the volume to expand, but that can be postponed until you're ready to do it... and that's the only time the unit is "down".

Pretty cool, eh?

(Yeah, I know I sound like a pitchman for Infrant, but I'm honestly not affiliated with them in any way at all. I just think it's a great product.)

Good-bye, iSight Saturday, March 17, 2007

Many of you probably know that, for some reason, iSight cameras can get into a weird state where they start causing serious errors with FireWire drives.

The symptoms usually include a bunch of I/O errors while copying to a FireWire drive: failed copies, flaky behavior, crashes. All of this goes away if you power off, disconnect the iSight, wait a while and power back up.

Sometimes, the iSight stops working with iChat (it says the camera's in use when it's not, or the light comes on, but you don't get any picture), and in it was in that second state today when I had a kernel panic.

No data was lost, I'm happy to say, but I decided that I've had enough of this. Since 10.4.9 supports USB cameras, I've switched to a Logitech QuickCam Ultra Vision. (All they need to do is add Super Deluxe Extreme Edition to the end to make it really cool!)

It's not as elegant as the original iSight (it's fixed focus, horizontal format, a bit gaudy), but it's got a nice wide angle lens, built in microphone, works with any monitor, and seems reliable. Plug the thing in, and it works.

Given that you can't buy "real" iSights any more, and based on direct experience, I give it a thumbs-up.

Sorry, iSight. I'll miss you!

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