New Mac enroute!

Well, after the joy of the iBook G3, and then the free G4 upgrade Apple provided me thanks to some bad luck on motherboard and display failures, I’m biting the bullet and pulling the upgrade lever. And it has now shipped. :-)

Left Shanghai according to FedEx this morning. Why a Mac? Well, many reasons now. I love the OS and ability to get things done a lot easier than a Windows system, I already got the copy of Parallels Desktop for Mac so I can run Windows at near-native speeds, a Mac laptop sleeps correctly and wakes up quickly just by opening and closing the screen, whereas the HP I have occasionally will take upwards of 10 minutes to wake up if it’s been sleeping over a day, and finally, and here’s the kicker… it’s cheaper. I was buying a Mac anyway, and went through a developer program hardware discount I had an all that, but removing that and going pure list price:

The stock Apple 2.33 GHz Core 2 Duo 17″ laptop comes in at $3,099 Canadian. When I took a Dell M1710 system and outfitted it as near as I could get, including drives, free DVD burner upgrade, and RAM, the price shows up at $3,567 Canadian. Neither of these are budget systems, they are the top of the line or near the top of the line in both cases. HP doesn’t seem to have anything comparable even as a base model in the Canadian store I can find, nor does Lenovo (both still on last gen Core Duo or Centrino and older AMD processors).

And just thinking about, you don’t get a built-in camera and optical in/out on the audio on the Dell either. Or Firewire 800. You do get the built-in modem and a built-in VGA out rather than using a DVI to VGA adapter for presentations and the like. Ah well. Now I’m just a bit happier (if that’s possible) about this purchase. To say nothing of the fact I got it cheaper than list with the Select Developer Discount program from Apple. 😉

Currently playing in iTunes: Peace by Norah Jones

What happens when you don’t get it….

Well, the blogroll pulled up an interesting article on the Zune, and the iPod. The author, Mike Elgan, writes in some length around how Zune might take on iPod by becoming the anti-iPod. His article for your reference and enjoyment is at: Zune: So you want to be an iPod killer

I would venture Mr. Elgan has a few interesting ideas, but pointing to sites like iPod Hacks as the basis that iPod users want open and complex devices with great extensibility and customization is a bit of wanton leap past the region of statistical extrapolation. iPod Hacks is a cool site, and it’s in the best vein of the hacker ethic of “What can I do with this device?”, but it’s not like the millions of iPod users are in any way represented by the small base of users (proportionally) that frequent and utilize iPod Hacks information and software. I’ve kept an eye on iPod Hacks myself, as from my hacker perspective, it’s cool what people can do with this. But would I ratchet my iPod into that and lose the seamless, best music player functionality and integration I enjoy? No chance.

Mr. Elgan makes a number of very fundamental, and geek-mindset mistakes in his article. He accurately describes Microsoft’s company strengths, and extensively goes into the abysmal customer experience that the Zune is when removed from the packing. Then he loses his grip on consumer products and launches into what he wants for a music player.

Dismissing that user experience out of hand is simply foolish, especially in a market entry. Every one of the customers that goes through that pain is more likely to diss the Zune and go iPod unless they are either anti-Apple or blindly pro-Microsoft. They were trying to buy a music player, and they got a box of pain. Waving the hand of providence and MSFT-get-v3.0-right is just naive. That experience is why Apple is rolling downhill like a consumer-rampaging avalanche of revenue in the music player business. They built a device that absolutely excels at being a music player. That’s it. Now it does small video as well, but that’s not how it got to dominate the market.

Is Apple paying attention to it? You bet. And they will compete with it fiercely, and it will likely benefit the marketplace as various pressures and pricing comes to bear based on the acceptance of the varying offers. I don’t think we’re going to see iPod price drops thanks to Zune based on the current offering though.

This touches on the bigger fallacy that Mr. Elgan puts forward that simply isn’t true except in geeks. I quote:

History shows that the functionality of stand-alone gadgets always gets folded into multipurpose devices. Apple’s instinct to maximize elegance at the expense of extensibility made them No. 1 in the media player market, but the future belongs to customizable, multifunction players.

I’m afraid I can’t come up with anything that actually supports this “historic” assertion. Smart phones are eclectic and in no way make up the majority of the devices people have. I know even some tech-heads that are tossing the Palm/iPaq family of gadgets for paper and pencil, and going with a more elegant, simple phone that works better as a phone such as the RAZR or some of the Sony/Nokia offerings. Last time I checked, the mass-market still has watches, and those multi-function wildly customizable digital monstrosities of the 80s died a deserved death. Convergence only works when the result isn’t a compromise. When the BlackBerry got the phone part right in addition to mobile email, without trying to edit your excel spreadsheet on a 2″ screen, that succeeded. The first few BlackBerries that had just the office functionality with mobile email were just mobile email devices, because to the majority of users, the office app functionality was too big of a compromise.

The point of market volume as an OEM is a side argument without merit or relevance. To Mr. Elgan’s point, I know lots of people that refer to a BlackBerry, but nobody that refers to a “Windows Smart Phone”. The Windows software is customized for each phone. The fact that Java is on more cell phones than the Windows system is just as irrelevant. There is no buzz around Java on a cell phone, and there is no buzz around Windows Smart Phones. there’s a heck of a lot around BlackBerry though.

What I can’t understand is why this all seems OK to people, regarding the Zune hitting the market so very poorly. It’s a panic release obviously, and shows that the consumer experience, and more importantly, the Microsoft Brand, doesn’t seem to matter very much. Microsoft, who attached themselves to a brand of “Plays for Sure” and then walked away from it, have lost brand value in the parent name as well as killing the goodwill the Plays for Sure initiative had. Branding does matter to the consumer, and to market success. Zune with this sort of offering is detracting from the Microsoft brand. Apple delays when something isn’t ready for the market or when it’s not polished enough. Microsoft releases it and tries to fix it in a later release, and causes a pile of grief to the customers in the mean time.

I’d like to leave with one last question to him. What about all those other devices that were more open, extensible, more functional, and cheaper? Those things like the Creative Zen, also widely hacked and customized, and with more features, more product lines and configurations, and cheaper to boot? Microsoft ditched them for their own, non-compatible solution. I’m sorry, but based on the way the Zune is entering the marketplace and what it’s looking like and feeling as an initial customer experience, the head of the Zune initiative should be looking for a new job. The number of mistakes that were made, especially that irritate the customer, makes this an abysmal failure. The XBox 360 was a light year beyond this in out-of-the-box experience.

THIS is what an “iPod killer” looks like?

It’s painfully obvious the bulk of the media has no clue how to deal with quality over features and performance. Which is why every single feature-ridden, cheaper-than-dirt, bling-bling outfitted competitor to the iPod has been labelled an iPod killer…. by everyone except the people buying them.

Witness the “try anything” approach of Microsoft in that they released the “Plays for Sure” moniker two years ago, which of course did basically nothing at all for the music players outside of the Apple brand, and ensured that they would seek to cannibalize each other as there was no flow-through revenue ecosystem like Apple has with iTMS, iTunes and the iPod. But hey, “Plays for Sure” should still stand for something if Microsoft really cares about the consumers.

Judging from this I would say that Microsoft is worried about DRM and lock-in, and very little else. The work-around Microsoft is offering to get songs from its own store to its own player is the same avenue you have to take tracks from the iTunes Music Store and put them on the Creative Zen, Microsoft Zune or any other, which is to say, burn it to an audio disc, and then re-rip it to a pure MP3 format. Of course, any pure MP3 format will automatically import into iTunes and play on your iPod, as will any AAC (MPEG-4) audio file and may other wondrous standard files. The lock-in is there, and it’s around the digitally purchased music.

And this is the point really. An “iPod Killer” isn’t just the gadget. As Apple is only too aware and far too ingrained in, it’s the experience. It just has to work. This kind of disconnect between the vendor’s first store, and the new gadget and ecosystem that’s locked in, is a serious rupture in the brand identity of Microsoft in the music arena. This hurts the reputation grievously because, in the eyes of the average consumer, Microsoft music doesn’t work with my new Microsoft player. End of experience. The technical details and work-around are all there, and you can get it sorted with a chunk of work, but the point is the experience that is remembered is “I had to fiddle with it.” or “It didn’t even work with the music I bought six months ago from Microsoft’s music store!”

Personally, I feel DRM is a great hindrance, but then I also know that there’s a chunk of people out there that feel they should be able to get it for free if they can figure out how. Dishonest people cause DRM, and the rest of us honest folk are the ones it inconveniences. That said, I’ve never had a single problem with Apple’s FairPlay system, and I’ve transited across two macs and two iPods over my history with it, without a hitch, enabling all the Macs in our house to play the purchased music shared locally and legally, all within the enabling model of iTunes.

If the customers mattered, they would be able to download the tracks again in the Zune format, or would be given credit for that number of tracks with the purchase of a Zune, or at least some sort of nod to say “Thanks” for the patronage and faith in the failed first Microsoft Music Initiative. But then, as I note, this isn’t an iPod killer, because it’s not about the user.

I’ve tried (not bought) a number of the early and mid-iteration MP3 players, and none of them just work and let me do what I want, which is find, sort and listen to my music. Easily and without a pile of other features I don’t use. My whole 250+ CD collection of purchased music (both real disc and iTunes) all in my pocket. That’s what the iPod is about, and until this sort of nonsense stops and the focus is on the consumer that is shelling out for the music and the player, there won’t be a challenger, let alone a killer in the midst.

Disclaimer: I’m a Mac and iPod owner (obviously), work on Windows, still have Linux on servers and occasionally deal with Solaris still.

Currently playing in iTunes: Surface to Air by The Chemical Brothers

NSLU2 and Openslug on Mac OS X

Ok, I’m NOT an embedded hacker (unless I have to be) but I do like fiddling with the linksys hardware both the wireless routers and the relatively new NSLU2 attached storage device. But the firmware is old and kind of crotchety, and of course those passionate folks of all things GPL and other goodness have been at it hacking the firmware of this toy. Mac OS X is not the platform of choice to partake of this goodness, but with Fink, you can still get there at some levels.

The trick is, get the latest Fink and grab the latest OpenSlug or other Unslung firmware for the NSLU2 if you’re so inclined. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is NOT for the faint of heart, so read here and get acquainted or scared off as appropriate. With fink, get the *unstable* package for the libpcap (0.9.4 as of this writing) and then you’re set for some fun.

Now it’s time to do that wondrous compile thing. Problem is the configuration is all set up for the DarwinPorts which I’ve never felt is quite the level that Fink is at. So rather than pull all of DarwinPorts in, it’s actually a short trip to compile the upslug2 firmware updater software on your Fink-enabled Mac OS X system.

Grab the tar.gz for all platforms, unzip and untar it and then get into the directory. Using a mod of the “readme.macosx” your command line becomes:

CPPFLAGS=-I/sw/include LDFLAGS=-L/sw/lib ./configure –with-libpcap

That will get you the upslug2 executable, ready to rock and overwrite your firmware of the NSLU2 with all sorts of open source hackery. I find the fun the packages and customization more than the compile and tweak of the firmware itself. If you find yourself in a similar camp, these tips may be of some help to you.

Enjoy, and props to the Unslung and other NSLU hackers out there for getting these tools rocking and some seriously capable firmware going!

Currently playing in iTunes: The Power Of Love by Frankie Goes To Hollywood

If you think it hurts now…..

Get there. See it. An Inconvenient Truth is a must-see film. It’s
not a seat-edge gripper, but it’s probably about as good as you can get
for communicating our impact on the planet, and the path that we’re
following with ever-increasing speed. You owe it to yourself and more
importantly the next generation to see this movie. The science is
extremely well supported and accurate. The message is clear and well
presented.

Let’s set the stage. I’m no luddite, and while I support the Green Party
platform and party, I don’t advocate going back to horse and carriage
and unplugging the power stations. (In fact, it’s a balanced,
sustainable approach that the Green Party advocates that draws me to
them.) The fact remains is that we’re actually incredibly wasteful of
the energy we use. Vast amounts aren’t used for the purpose we target,
but feathered off as heat, or inefficient power to do far more than we
really need. I admire efficiency in its many aspects, and I believe that
it’s films like this that should illustrate just how inefficient our
society is, and how much room there is for improvement.

As Gore states in the film, quoting a context long in our past, “We are
entering an era of consequences”. We need to act to head off an era of
decimation and upheaval. We have the ability to begin to mitigate and
manage our impact, but first we need to be aware of it, and motivated to
act. I believe that this film is the vehicle for the majority of people
to achieve just that. Please, show you have a more open mind than
President Bush and his staff, who sit in complete denial of our impact
and footprint, living for today without planning for tomorrow. Theatre
listings are at ClimateCrisis.net.
If you go, pledge to go via the link banner on the right, and
then, tell your friends, take them with you. Awareness is that critical
first step that we can all participate in.

Mighty Mouse Enhanced iTunes 5?

Mucking about with the Mighty Mouse and the latest release of iTunes while
listening to “A Northern Chorus” – cool Canadian artist if you’re into a
bit more of an ambient rock idea. In doing so, I noticed what I can only
describe as “enhanced for Mighty Mouse” behaviour. If iTunes 5 is the
active application, the scroll bars in the music/track display area
function just fine in 2d with the scroll ball. What I didn’t expect
exactly was the volume slider also acts like a scroll bar, and the active
region is location dependent.

Thus, if the pointer is over the table region, those scroll bars are
active and controlled via the the scroll bar, but moving the pointer
over the volume slider area, and the tracking region is slightly larger
than the volume slider graphic, enables the horizontal direction of the
scroll ball to control the volume slider. It’s actually quite intuitive,
but pleasantly so, and honestly given the bulk of apps out ther,
somewhat unexpected. -)

I would venture it’s exactly what should happen, but it does
represent a bit more coding and behaviour in the controls, changing
active regions properly. Although I haven’t delved deep enough into
Cocoa to know if that’s an almost-freebie. It could be via attaching
events in the nib, but I haven’t dabbled with components that much.

A good example of doing the right thing™.

The second mac…. Mac mini for my wonderful wife….

So after supporting and having my dear wife put up with a Pentium III-450
for a long while under various versions of Windows, I asked her what she
would like for a new computer. The iMac G5 was a bit pricey for current
budgets with school coming up for our boys and all. So after mulling it
over, we decided to go for the Mac mini. We did go with the SuperDrive
model to better complement our Canon DV video camera. I’d had a bit of fun
editing video together with it, and she figured it would be kind of cool.

So when it finally arrived, the look on everyone’s face at just how
small it really is was priceless. If you haven’t seen one of these
things, go find one at an Apple store or Apple reseller. Inside, a 1.42
Ghz G4, 512 MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, 802.11g and bluetooth, and a DVD-R
drive. Now, it’s not top of the line as Apple product goes, but it’s got
all the power and space needed for a home user to have a whole lot of
fun with. But it’s small. And it looks cool. Oh yeah. And it’s pretty
much silent. The ambient noise in the room where it’s located has
dropped to almost silence, compared to a not-so-subtle flood of white
noise from fans and hard drives in the tower on the PC.

So that was all good. But that was, as it is with most computers, only a
small part of the story.

Enter iLife ‘05. And specifically iMovie. I had shown Trudy only one
title and a couple of transitions while editing some old video of her
winterguard. She had a few videos of rehearsals and she decided to edit
them. I gave her zero help on this. Within about a day, and by no means
continual work in that time, she showed me an edited 5 minute video of
sort of a promotional style for her winterguard, complete with
transitions, titling, an overlaid soundtrack and pretty good
composition. It really is that good a tool. No such chance with
Microsoft Movie Maker. And of course, free with the new Mac.

Then with one of her cousins and his boys coming into town for a visit,
she did a videographer number on them, and edited that down over the
visit of four days, and then added in chapters and mastered it onto a
DVD via iMovie and iDVD. Again, with overlaid soundtracks, and up a few
notches in appearance and composition. These things are enjoyable to
watch, not your general boring home video. IMHO of course. But these
tools truly do empower users.

And we even brought all the email and things over from the Windows box
intact with minimal fuss as well. This is really the way computers
should be for everyone. Including me. I may be an “expert” level user,
being a professional programmer and having development and sysadmin
experience spanning over 12 years on Unix, Linux, Windows and a bit on
the Mac for fun, but at times I want it to be a fun tool for creative
work, rather than a hobby unto itself. That’s why I love this platform,
and by the looks of it, that’s why the old Windows box hasn’t been
turned on in a couple of weeks. -)

Wait on the multicast – got me a Mighty Mouse

Well, I picked up a new Mighty Mouse that was on hold for me from my good
friends at Westworld
Computers
and have been trying it out for a bit.

Truth be told, based on the reviews at places like Engadget
and others, the reviews tell you pretty much exactly what you’ll get
and what sort of experience you’re in for. So it’s all down to opinion
on what you think of it.

For a 1.0 piece of hardware, it’s Apple through and through. It’s got
those touches of elegance and a good helping of innovation, but maybe
some of it has a bit of rough edge to it. If you’ve ever acquired a
first release of one of their hardware platforms right out of the gate,
you know what I mean.

I think it’s a fine mouse. Maybe a touch pricey, but the feel of that
scroll wheel ball and the integration with Mac OS X is
very well done. The tiny little sounds created for the ball and the side
button pair are signature subtle but sufficient. It does have the issue
that you pretty much have to lift your left-click finger(s) off the
surface to get a right-click, and that to my taste, the side buttons
require a bit too much pressure to activate, but overall it’s very nice,
and for the average non-USB Overdrive using Mac user, this is a worthy
upgrade from the one-button or from the average Logitech optical scroll
mouse. When it does go wireless, I might need another one. -)

If you get a chance, try one out. I think it’s a personal taste, but by
the new control panel allowing things like the middle button/ball to
active the dashboard and the side button pair to active the application
switcher, it’s a mouse-only experience for surfing in a lot of cases
now. And coming from this keyboard-shortcut addict, that’s actually kind
of cool. If you want to really kick it, go with the USB Overdrive add-on
that is now supporting the Mighty Mouse, or really go nuts and get a
googol-buttoned USB input device with the Overdrive software. -)

So… the new iBook…

Yes, a new iBook. Gratis.

Basically, the G3 iBooks that came out in the last series of G3s had a
slight engineering issue in the hinge. The cables to the video were
pinched tight or at least firmly in the hinge from the mainboard. Over
time, this causes the wires to lose the insulation to friction and
ultimately, the video wires short with the backlight wires, and well….
zzzt.

So anyway, I bought the AppleCare extended warranty in the first year I
owned it, and on top of that, there is an extended motherboard
replacement program from Apple to take care of this problem on the
series I had. While it’s inconvenient when it goes, I got used to
backing it up somewhat regularly, and I felt Apple was being fair in the
warranty replacement policies.

So, that said, it happened a second time (yes, about once a year). And
again it went in to get fixed. And it came back. The local dealer here
pointed out that I also had blemishing on the display, which I noticed,
but didn’t think much of. They noted that the level of degradation it
was displaying was also worth a replacement, and ordered the part. Ok,
that’s all good and fair. Wonderful.

Unfortunately, the new motherboard had a thermal issue that it would
overheat under load and lock up before the fan would kick in. That was a
component defect as well. So it was limping along, which got most of the
things done, but not much programming and no gaming. It’s a hobby
computer, so that was OK.

Apple at this point noted that I was under AppleCare, and had
essentially three motherboard failures and a pending display
replacement. Anybody can do the math and see that despite the fact I do
take good care of the laptop, this was costing them money, and starting
to grate on me. Then they did something that will likely keep me with
Apple and buying AppleCare warranties for a long, long time.

The replaced it. The local dealer pleaded the case, but ultimately, it’s
up to Apple, and the Canadian crew decided it made sense. Possibly they
were running out of the G3 parts by this point. In any case, Apple
didn’t just fix the problem, they made it right. That’s a rare
thing these days I find. And by replaced I mean I now have a G4 1.33 Ghz
iBook, with Airport Extreme, not a new 900 MHz G3 iBook. I had to give
up the RAM upgrade I had and wait two weeks without a system, but Apple
treated me with utmost respect and care in this matter I feel. They’ve
won a long-term customer from a first-time buyer. Now, I’m a big Apple
fan for a long time, but this treatment speaks more to the company than
the product. I’m impressed and very, very thankful to the crew at Apple
and here in Calgary at WestWorld computers. Thank you all!

Your mileage may vary, and I would never expect or feel Apple was
obligated to do this sort of thing. I was owed a fully-functional G3
iBook under AppleCare. That’s it. They went above and beyond, and
deserve a LOT of praise and respect for doing so in my opinion.

So in my way of saying thanks, I offer up this public thanks and
recommendation of Apple, and further, I ordered and am awaiting a new
Mac mini for my wife to replace the old Windows system she’s been coping
with for far too long. 1.42 Ghz SuperDrive to replace an old PIII-450
Mhz CD-RW. And most importantly to me, and Apple system to replace a
windows system that for home use, iLife ‘05 is a rocking good home media
authoring system we can have fun with the videos of the kids with.
iMovie in ‘05 is worth a whole heap of praise itself. -)

Another Bloged upgrade…. another date whoops… but this time my fault

Well, I just upgraded to the latest bloged 0.7 (good job Henry and
everyone). Seems to be pretty decent. The editor has a few graphical
hiccups that might be my system, but I’ll fiddle with it and see if it’s
worth reporting more formally. Overall the program looks a lot better, and
feature-rich, but mostly just a lot easier to do some of the simple things.

That said, I’ve had a good summer thus far, and now I think it’s time to
hack the 5 or so items out that I’ve been pondering. I’ll hopefully get
to that this weekend. The first one will be around my iBook, which I
restored from backup a few weeks back, and that caused my last two
entries to be recreated from the web publish version as they were not on
the backup I pulled from.

So while I’m going to cause a bit of a rash of postings, and hopefully
start getting a bit more regular and frequent on the musings, it’s a lot
of pent-up stuff. Some of it hopefully good reading for the web
continuum.