Eric Lindsay's Blog 2008 January

Tuesday 1 January 2008

Smoking Ban in France

I note with great delight that France is extending its smoking ban to bars, restaurants and hotels. If enough countries do this, maybe deadly drug pushers like the tobacco companies will go out of business. Not before time.

There is absolutely no reason for any society to extend the protection of company laws to any company whose business harms people. Companies are natural born sociopaths. They are sociopaths by law, and their single minded devotion to profits and shareholders is of great use to society. However it brings with it a need for companies to be very tightly controlled and limited in what actions they may legally take. If that means large companies go out of business if their products turn out to be harmful, that is part of the cost of having companies.

No Apple Tablet Laptop Computer

What I want at MacWorld San Francisco is a Macintosh Touch. It is unlikely to appear. Reason, there is no driving reason for people to buy it. Ebooks don't cut it as a market. Not enough travellers needing a really lightweight computer instead of a laptop. I would buy it in an instant, but buyers of multiple computers for personal use are probably not a large market. The other problem with a release now is that several of the technologies are just not ready as yet. Against that, the Toshiba R500 shows just how far a laptop can go.

An Apple 13 inch lightweight touch slate with full OS X. Using Spaces leaves the possibility of a smaller display, say 7 to 10 inch, but smaller ones are getting down towards iPhone territory. Display is most of the top surface, like a giant iPhone. Package contents similar to a Mac mini - no keyboard, no mouse, no touchpad, no modem. Also, no optical drive, and no hinge. This is a one piece computer with no moving parts. It is intended mostly for users who have another full function computer already.

It is also the computer for people who don't really want a computer. People with lightweight computing needs. Some email, some chat, some photos, some music, a little video. People whose computer is set up by someone else. Think grandparents. Their grandchildren live on a computer, or a mobile phone. There are lots of retired people who can easily afford a computer, but it doesn't fit their style of life. Apple is one company who could change that.

Somewhat like the modified MacBook proposed a year ago by Axiotron, but smaller and especially lighter. When you need more than just an iPhone ... but carrying a full size laptop is just too much. I want something I would pick up when I am leaving a desk, and take along to meetings, or to the cafe or whatever. Like you might carry a book or a clipboard.

See this year old article about why Apple will not make a tablet computer. By a former Apple marketing guy, it repeats some good points.

Apple won't even make a mid-tower computer. There is a noisy minority shouting for something between the iMac and the Mac Pro. Something you can put cards into. Apple have refused to respond. Just because there is a gap in a product line does not mean filling that gap is always a good idea. For a mid tower, you compete directly against some real low priced crap (as well as some very capable computers).

Apple Tablet Laptop Computer Hardware

One big question is whether Apple can manage a daytime viewable display. More power on the backlight hurts battery life, even with LED backlights, as Apple are reputed to have on new 13 inch displays. At present, Apple have a 15 inch MacBook Pro display with LED backlights. However I can't see a potentially even better OLED display at this stage.

How can you leave off the optical drive? Software mostly comes from the web these days. Operating systems can be installed from external drives, or via your other Macintosh. Front Row can play video_TS files, so if you want to view a DVD, rip it first. Or, buy or rent a movie from the iTunes Store. Front row seems built for touch control, as does Cover Flow. With Back To My Mac, and good networks, only one of your Macintosh needs an optical drive. Plus by the time a few years have passed, if either Blu-Ray or HD-DVD has won the format battle, and DVD is dead, then you may be wanting a replacement optical drive anyhow.

Is it still a little too early to be able to replace the large capacity, cheap hard drive with an expensive, low capacity solid state drive. I hope not, but in any case some hard drives do fairly well in size and power drain these days. You could live with a rotating hard drive this year. Pity about that 9 mm thickness from a 2.5 inch notebook drive however. I could see hybrid hard drives as an interim step. Reducing both boot times and access time for commonly used files, hybrid drives could also cut drive power consumption nicely. If drive access can be cut sufficiently by good caching, perhaps a hybrid iPod style hard drive (these are not suitable for full time use).

The CPU can't be all that fast, if you need reasonable battery life. The ultra low power Penryn is a possibility. Or Apple could be awaiting Intel's newer low power chips, not due until later in the year. Decisions, decisions. Whatever way, this thing would not be replacing a MacBook Pro for video performance.

Apple Tablet Laptop Computer Connectors

Bluetooth. If you really want a mouse and keyboard, buy Bluetooth models. Apple just happen to have a compact Bluetooth keyboard available. Plus Bluetooth lets you link to the internet via a cell phone, if WiFi isn't available.

Well, Bluetooth mostly lets you link via a cell phone, unless you are using an iPhone. Why Apple? Was it so hard to get that profile working? Maybe it was. Bluetooth seems overly complex to me. However Apple are reputed to have a CSR Bluecore 4 EDR chipset, running BlueMagic. A little more than you need for a lousy headset and car handsfree.

WiFi. Your normal link to the world. Your local wireless access point. Your Airport Express plugged into your home stereo system. AppleTV for movies at home. An Express plugged into a hotel Ethernet plug. WiFi at an airport, Starbucks or elsewhere. Music and movie downloads from the iTunes Store. WiFi is what makes a slate feasible. Bonjour is available. Apple's Steve Jobs has talked with the CEO of the Spanish FON network (shared WiFi). Back To My Mac makes access to your home system easier. A web server on your Macintosh media store lets you use an iPod Touch as a remote control. The list goes on.

USB. I would dump it if I could. But there are just too many people who would want to connect their iPod, or their digital camera, or a spare drive, or their Time Machine backup, or a USB memory stick. USB stays.

Firewire. If you don't have an optical drive, how do you install a new operating system? We know that Firewire target mode works well. Plus it gives a way to connect a camcorder. Firewire speed is great. Firewire is at greater risk than USB, but I just can't see a high end slate without it.

Ethernet. Much more dubious. Except for sheer speed, you can use WiFi for anything Ethernet cables can do. I can easily see WiFi being your major local area network connection, instead of Ethernet. WiFi won't be acceptable to some companies, but companies are not Apple's direct target. Besides, if the CEO wants WiFi, IT will just have to find a way for the CEO to get it. I think Ethernet is out.

Digital and analogue audio in and out. Built in speakers. Built in web camera.

Fans Run Hot

New Years Day brought high summer temperatures. My iMac does not like it at all. The fans always seem ramped up, attempting to keep my CPU down somewhere in the 500 area, when the room is around 300 Celsius.

Viewers Avoid High Definition Players

According to the International Herald Tribune, DVD high definition viewers are sitting out the format war. A million sales, 400 movies in each format. Neither side will fold, and like many others, I will never buy until one side does fold. This is the Beta and VHS war all over again. Look how handy it was when you bought the wrong model. Mind you, with draconian DRM, I probably won't buy them anyhow.

Warner Bros studio have confirmed they will drop HD-DVD and use Blu-ray format (and DVD) from May. Warner's were using both HD formats for some of their movie releases. I wonder how many other movie studios will need to change before most people conclude Blu-ray has won? Rather than just being the format for PS3 owners. Personally, I am sticking to DVD, as long as they are cheaper than a paperback novel.

Yes, I would like movies in HD. But not while HD has DRM. If I can't copy it, I am not going to buy it. DVD and Mac the Ripper or Handbreak is just fine for the moment. I want all my movies on hard drive, so I can store all the DVDs in the back of my closet, out of the bloody way. Do you know how much shelf space DVDs take on my bookcases?

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Nancy Buttons

By chance I was pointed to a collection of calligraphic buttons with many very neat quotes. In fact, I'd like a few of them in my Fortune file (as an aside, why isn't fortune included in OS X?) The neat buttons turned out to be from Nancy Lebovitz. I met her in the Dealer's Room at various USA SF conventions many years ago.

Google Products

Lifehacker have a nice list of ten Google products that are often forgotten. I like Google Trends - graph rise and fall of search terms. Google code search sometimes find programmers code not otherwise easy to locate. Google Base lets you file searchable database items on Google. Google Alerts lets you know by email if new web pages appear in specialist areas. Google Book Search, and Google Scholar. Google Page Creator for doing 100 mb of web pages. Google Notebook for online notes (there is a mobile version also). The Flight Simulator in Google Earth. Sketch Up is their free 3D modelling program for Windows and Macintosh. There is a more extensive list of Google products at Wikipedia.

iTunes Album Art

Most of my music in iTunes has no album art. The automatic searches in iTunes got a little album art. I got a little more from manual searches. I recently got a little more using AlbumArt. However there simply isn't any searchable copy of the art from most of my albums. This didn't matter until Cover Flow turned up everywhere. Now it is very annoying.

Thursday 3 January 2008

ENUM Directory Services

According to Wikipedia, Telephone number mapping is protocols to unify the E.164 telephone numbering system with the Internet DNS address scheme. It facilitates calling VoIP phone users from IP and PSTN. The problem ENUM advocates see is a lack of a single universal personal identifier for multiple communication services.

The ENUM system allocates phone numbers to personal computers and internet addresses to phones. In theory it will allow someone to use one number to receive landline and mobile phone calls and e-mail and instant messages, even if they access these services through different providers. I can't exactly see how this works when home computers now have multiple login identities, say for all members of the family. Users could create their own online profile to direct traffic to different devices based on time of day and caller location.

Personally I dislike VoIP and its problems, despite its increased functions in many areas. Due to their history, I don't trust Skype, the most prominent VoIP provider. VoIP is subject to delays and latency problems due to internet congestion, and any other network slowdowns. VoIP cuts you adrift from the historically exceedingly reliable PSTN, which traditionally provided backup power supplies in times of emergency. Household broadband modems probably do not have battery backup. There are also issues with locating VoIP users geographically, and in handling emergency calls.

The only reason advertising spam is not unbearable on most communication links is that the costs are high. Bulk mail is expensive, but look how much you get. Phone calls are abused to the point where many countries have a do no call register. Email these days is mostly spam. I change most of my email addresses every year, and then hide them except from friends. The last thing I want is some universal point of contact! The phone would get to be like TV, bereft of all content, and drowned in advertising.


When we visited the local RetroVision store to replace a broken stove, I was exceedingly surprised to notice in the RetroVision catalogue that they were going to stock the Asus Eee PC. I thought the story was that the Eee was going to be hard to get. Although I see a note that 350,000 had shipped by end of December.

The ASUS Eee uses a Intel 900 MHz Pentium M. It is a Debian based Xandros Linux sub-notebook computer with 512 MB of memory. Uses the Intel GMA 910 GML Express chipset, I believe. The Celeron CPU used runs 0.94 volts, and is 90 nm technology, dissipating 5.5 watts. Bios is from AMI. Seven inch 800 x 480 display, with a very large screen surround, and weight of 0.92 kg. Storage is 4 GB Hynix NAND solid state memory, no moving parts (there is an 8 GB version also, and Surf versions - whatever they are - with no web camera). WiFi is Azure PCI-E 802.11b/g, and it has Ethernet. Built in SD memory card reader. Camera for 640 x 480 video, Realtek ALC6628 chipset to stereo speakers and microphone. The 4 cell 5200 MAh battery is said to run for 3.5 hours. Three USB ports, VGA out, modem port (but no modem), Ethernet, and microphone and headphone sockets. An external plugpack for power. The Eee has a fan, and runs hot.

Startup is a rather slow multi tens of seconds, shutdown around 5 seconds. If it were a Windows notebook that would be impressive. For a solid state system with custom software, this is not all that impressive for an internet appliance.

No Apple Touch Tablet Laptop Computer

What does Apple have that would let a slate computer work for them? Particularly when tablet computers are a mostly niche market that don't work for most users. Apple have a working Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, so unlike a tablet, their slate doesn't need either. Apple have touch as an alternative. Apple have Airport Extreme, so the slate can connect to external drives. AppleTV provides a connection to a much larger display for multimedia, and Airport Express provides audio to a sound system. Apple's iLife pushes creating your own media, whether music, photos, video, movies. An Apple slate is starting to sound like the controller for a clustered replacement for a whole stack of media machinery.

Naturally this is nothing that you can't do with a normal Apple computer. However a slate isn't a normal computer. It will look like a simple appliance. A large part of the market will be people who would not normally buy a computer ... but their family want them to use computer facilities. Elderly parents, with resources sufficient to buy a slate on a whim, with installation support from children or grandchildren. Later they will add a few more peripherals, as above.

Intel Mobile Metro Notebook was a thin concept laptop in association with Ziba Design. It was 0.7 inch and 2.25 pound. Business Week claim it is the world's thinnest laptop. Highly unlikely, to anyone who has looked at a Toshiba Portage or some of the Sony models. More recently the Core2 Duo Intel Lorado ultra thin concept notebook reduces the weight to 2.2 pounds, and has a 13.3 inch display.

I think Apple are aiming at thinner, with no moving parts. Apple specialise in deciding what can be left out of a design. Expect fat margins on a thin computer.

Friday 4 January 2008

GPS Readings in Photos

I just ordered an ATP GPS Picture Track Photo Finder from Borge's Imaging in Australia. I had to sign up as a customer, but their shopping cart worked quickly. They don't have online credit card handling, but one of their friendly staff phoned up a few minutes later to complete the credit card details. Like many companies, they believe Express Post means I will receive the gadget next day. I always tell them that Express Post Guaranteed Next day delivery means three days (we are way outside the delivery area - but the Post Office do often surprise me).

I am really looking forward to geotagging all my future photos. The value of anything online is enhanced by metadata of this sort. Apple's iPhoto knows about latitude and longitude readings in the exif data, and Google is all over location information. Here is an early review of the ATP Photo Finder from the U.K.

Audioengine A2

I am surprised that people wanting a reasonable set of computer speakers do not more often mention AudioengineUSA. While the Audioengine 5 bookshelf is US$350, the new Audioengine 2 desktop loudspeaker is US$199. I understand that for USA buyers, you can organise a 30 day listening trial.

Specifications for the much smaller Audioengine 2 are obviously much inferior to the larger Audioengine 5. The amplifier is specified only at 15 watts RMS per channel, rather than the 50 watts RMS of the A5. S/N is better than 95dB (typical A weighted). THD is under 0.05% Crosstalk is below 50dB. Frequency response 65Hz-22kHz +/-2dB

Stereophile did a recent description of the Audioengine 2 and compared it with the Infinity Primus 150 and the Paradigm Atom v.3 The reviewer sounded impressed, given the price and size of these speakers.

John Atkinson's measurements reveal the amplifiers provide equalisation to drive the low frequency response above what you would normally expect from the small box. Not a purist technique, but I think it appropriate for powered computer speakers.

I have the larger Audioengine 5 bookshelf model as my computer speakers, and I am very satisfied with them. I live in a very small Whitsunday Terraces apartment (with a very big ocean view) and simply can not really continue to indulge myself with large audio components taking up increasingly precious space. The Audioengine 5 will be used for all my music from my computer. With some loss in quality, I can even play the speakers remotely from my Airport Express to avoid stringing cables.

If I want better audio results than that, I can always use my Grado SR125 headphones.

Saturday 5 January 2008


Jean took her regular morning walk with me. Later checks with a pedometer indicated that even in the one kilometre walk to and from the newsagency she is getting in 3000 steps. Not too bad for eight weeks from a hip replacement. I continued along to the local morning markets. Didn't take me long to fill my backpack with what fresh fruit and vegetables were available. This is a bad time for fresh produce, probably until Easter. Well, except for mango, which Jean can't eat anyhow. Vegetables are nearly all gone, stone fruit is about to disappear. No beans except snake beans.

Jean fully realises that the reason a ten minute shopping trip takes me three hours is socialising with people. I chatted with a heap of people, as usual. Around 9 a.m. the rain started. Some of the stall holders packed up. I had already had breakfast, but the rain stopped me collecting something for lunch. I had been given some meatballs with rice to try a few weeks previously, and had pretty much decided I would try getting something each week.


Sony will be demonstrating their 27 inch organic light emitting diode (OLED) TV at CES in Las Vegas this week. This is the same size as the demonstration last year, which probably indicates problems with yields on anything except tiny displays.

However Sony are selling an exceedingly expensive (US$2500) 11 inch OLED TV in Japan, and expect to also release it in the USA. That sort of price also indicates yield problems. The display is only 3 mm thick, around a tenth what any other TV display can manage. It has an impressive million to one contrast ratio. OLED has proven a real problem for manufacturers, with only some phones making use of tiny screens so far.

I can not help wondering whether Apple could make use of such a bright display for a high end tablet computer. Apple use Sony batteries, so why not use their display? Especially since OLED has a reputation for lower power consumption than traditional backlit LED displays. Apple are one of the few computer makers who can price themselves high.

Sunday 6 January 2008

Video Download Prices

I find myself shocked by prices being suggested for inferior quality download videos over the internet. Wholesale approaching US$17? What have the executives at these movie companies been sniffing? Oh wait, I know. Which reminds me, what happened to that vaccine against cocaine?

These days I have shelves full of DVDs, probably over 500 of them. I only started buying DVDs a few years ago when the price of a movie dropped below the price of a paperback novel. In Australia, paperback novels are a jaw dropping $19.95 all too often - about twice the US price. So I buy movies (and TV series) when they are around A$14. There are heaps of old movies available for under A$9, great for filling specific collections.

On the other hand, I believe that the local Video Ezy movie rental store, the only one in town, is going to close. True, they opened another store at the mall six kilometres away, but the store that is closing is the only video store within easy walking distance. The store at the mall has the whole front of the place full of DVDs for sale. Video rentals sure do not look like a thriving business at the moment.

X-Glow Cree XLamp

Jaycar Electronics have recently been selling X-Glow Cree XLamp high power LED flashlights. I got the smallest one, which claims 80 lumens from a Cree LED. The light is 20 mm diameter and 97 mm long. It weighs 62 g with the alkaline AA battery. Comes with a carry pouch and wrist strap. Light output seems to slightly exceed my older Lumiled model from Sharper Image. The X-Glow has the advantage of running from a single AA battery. The Sharper Image model I got years ago needs the hard to find and expensive CR-123 lithium battery. Jean promptly claimed the X-Glow for herself for travel.

Monday 7 January 2008

Dump Cricket

When I was a child, I kept being told that playing team games was good for me. Build character, and all that crap. I didn't like it then, and I loath it now it is all about advertisers and the media. Maybe it is time to stop bothering televising any sort of game that involves playing with balls? The players don't seem to care about anything except winning, regardless of what it takes. What horrible role models.

How about dropping sports in schools? At a time we need an educated work force, why are we wasting school time on sports? Why don't we stop funding the Australian Institute of Sports. Spend the tax money on something that is of use to the country. If the TV channels and media owners want sports, let them pay for the whole thing. It is simply another commercial enterprise, so why should it be paid for by anyone except sports enthusiasts?

Driveway Construction Starts

The construction crew at the Whitsunday Terraces blocked up most of the Endeavour Terrace car park. About six cars were blocked in, although by late afternoon only three were left. All the trapped cars were gone the next day. The construction crew ripped out the entire wall very quickly. The railway sleepers of which it was constructed were just as badly damaged as we had feared. Plus there were white ants, as we feared. This repair started none too soon. I don't know how many trailer loads of sleepers were hauled away, and there were also several truck loads of earth. The crew had a small digger, and made good time with the start of the work.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Mac Pro with Penryn

Apple released an update to their top of line Mac Pro desktop system. The case is essentially unchanged. Since I think the existing case looks and works great, I have no problem with that. The Mac Pro is now using two Penryn 45 nm quad core Xeon 5400 CPUs, available in speeds from 2.8 GHz up to 3.2 GHz. Up to 32 GB of DDR2 800 MHz memory with dual independent 1600 MHz front side buss. It comes standard with 2 x 1GB RAM, not the previous 2 x 512 MB. Up to 4 TB of SATA hard drives in four pull out bays. You can use RAID, and add a hardware RAID card. The standard configuration costs US$2799, but costs rapidly escalate as you option up. Memory is basically US$1000 for each 4 GB. Something over US$21,000 if you take most options.

You can downgrade to a single 2.8 GHz quad core to save US$500, if you are basically after storage space and a big box. I am not sure enough software is optimised for eight cores to make all that processing power worthwhile for most users. After all, you could buy 3 GHz eight core Mac Pros mid last year. They didn't benchmark all that much better than a regular model back then. Since I am not a graphics professional, I don't really look hard at these models. They are not designed for me.

The new Mac Pro has a new PCI Express 2.0 graphics card slot, and can support up to four video cards. These in turn can drive up to eight video displays. Standard video card is an ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT with 256 MB of video memory. It has two dual link DVI, formerly a US$250 BTO option. Optional video cards are an Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT with 512 MB of video ram, or the Nvidia Quadro FX 5600 with 1.5 GB of video ram. These are all more modern (some barely available yet) choices than the end of life graphics cards on the previous models.

Five USB 2.0 ports, two Firewire 800, two Firewire 400 ports, optical and analog audio in and audio out, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, a headphone jack. It also has Bluetooth included (formerly an extra cost BTO), but WiFi (with pre-n) is an optional extra.

What does the Mac Pro lack? Smaller, sleeker enclosure. Blu-ray (or HD-DVD). HDMI output. eSATA for external drives. I am sure come people were asking for all these. In case I didn't say it elsewhere, I think adding Blu-ray and HDMI are idiotic ideas that lock you into AACS DRM. I would be reluctant to buy a computer that included them.

Mac Pro - Implications

The Mac Pro does not have Blue-ray. It does not have an HDMI video port for connecting to a TV with HDCP. As far as I know, OS X 10.5 does not support the idiotic AACS DRM required to play Blu-ray. Personally, I see no reason to support the AACS lock in that the movie studios want with HD content. I hope Blu-ray dies, just like HD-DVD has died. Since a Mac Pro is the obvious starting point for anyone adding Blu-ray, the fact that Blu-ray is not even an option means that we will not see any announcement about Blu-ray support at MacWorld next week. I think this is great. Let Blu-ray wither on the vine.

Release of a Mac Pro now instead of at MacWorld means Apple see this release as a very standard update. No new case design means the case is as good as it needs to be. Making all the standard models eight core probably means greater thread support in Leopard and in professional applications is probably closer. It is possible that Apple are clearing a desktop space between the Mac mini and the Mac Pro, but I do not think so. The iMac has most of that niche covered, and is much more like an appliance. A mid Mac would compete against all manner of cheap desktop boxes.

Seems like this is a clearing the decks announcement so that Steve Jobs' keynote presentation can concentrate on new consumer products. Stealing a bit of publicity from the CES items would be just a delightful side effect. The only thing that gets me is that the new Intel chips are not actually out there in quantity as yet. Sure, Penryn for mobile, but without a case redesign, what would Apple say? I can see iMac with Penryn, as it can handle the heat envelope from the early chips. I can see a Macbook Pro upgrade to Penryn. Can I see a 13 inch Macbook Pro. Could happen, and I hope that it does. Can I see a lightweight slate. Maybe that will be held until Silverthorne is available. I could see an AppleTV upgrade, along with the movie rental announcement.

Searching Traveller's Computers

International Herald Tribune reports a customs officer checked the contents of Michael Arnold's hard drive when he returned to the USA. I would have thought any such search would not have legal standing under the USA Fourth Amendment.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Does everyone need to protect their privacy by password protecting everything on their computer? By encrypting every file? I believe I can lock down a computer beyond the power of a customs or security check to get access. Many security authorities do recommend this. But why should I have to? This is simply harassing travellers.

I am not a US citizen, and these days I refuse to travel to the USA under any circumstances. Jean may eventually talk me around, but I think it unlikely. I don't like the politics in the place, and see no need to lend implicit support to the policies of the present USA administration.

Walks with Jean

Jean managed several walks during the day, now she is consulting a pedometer. This multiple walks is new this week. A visit to Centro shopping centre, where she walked, and I bought DVDs. For a non-shopping trip, she did OK at finding little things we were after.

Jean walked down the steps to the car park several times, to see how the reconstruction of the supporting wall was going at the next terrace down. Unfortunately on one of these walks she tripped going up a stair, and bruised both hands. That was after she got down four flights of stairs, a record distance since the hip replacement operation.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Apple XServe

Apple also released an upgraded 1U rackmount XServe model with a 2.8 GHz quad Xeon at US$2999. Unlimited licence Leopard server software is included. You can add up to 3 TB of storage. This seems a reasonable but not startling addition to their server line. By the time you take server software costs into account, they can be competitive in some markets.

Thursday 10 January 2008

iMac G5 ALS Video Dies

Some time in the afternoon, but not while I was watching, my iMac G5 ALS video display appeared totally scrambled. You could tell if a window was up and open, but had not chance of reading anything. While this didn't appear like a software problem, I didn't want to rule that out since I had installed the most recent security update a few days prior. First check was to power up an alternative monitor. That showed the same scrambled display. It remained scrambled after a reboot.

I have actually seen something very similar on Windows when the video card memory was not working correctly. The problem with any appliance computer like an iMac or laptop is that replacing the video card isn't an easy option.

Although my iMac G5 ALS is the second generation, I was aware of a large number of posts in Apple forums regarding scrambled video on an iMac G5 first generation. This was so frequent that Apple extended the warranty on the iMac G5 first generation. The problem was electrolytic capacitors failing after a period of time. This has been a continuing problem for computer manufacturers for several years. Cost cutting has left some shipments of capacitors of less than the quality they should be. Apple have been specifying appropriate brands, and they are rated for 105 degrees Celsius.

I opened the back of the iMac G5 ALS and carefully inspected all the capacitors that were visible. It was night by then, and I couldn't see any bulging or leaking. A later check in daylight using a magnifying glass didn't reveal more. Well, except that Apple were using Rubycon brand capacitors, and they were rated at 105 degrees Celsius. While I had the computer open, I took the opportunity to replace my third party memory stick with the original Apple memory, just in case. As expected, the memory swap didn't make any difference to the scrambled video.

Apple had a nice set of articles on how to deal with problems. I checked the first three diagnostic LEDs inside the iMac (86815), once I located the power switch on the motherboard. I went through obvious ones, like resetting the PRAM with Command Option P R (2238 and 301283) and SMU (301733). Went through trouble shooting when no picture (301283 also 300908). No help there. Booting from DVD (hold down the C key) didn't help either.

One Less Desk

Heckler Design's OneLessDesk is a really neat stainless steel two part desk. The expense matches Apple products well. If anyone owns one of those spotless designer homes, and wants to get further into stainless steel, this looks perfect. The web site has an extensive gallery of pictures of the new slim desk.

Heckler point out your computer is now only an inch or two thick, and doesn't have a two foot deep monitor. The printer is in a closet, connected wirelessly, and used only to print aircraft boarding passes. Your desk can now be minimalist.

I feel I am in a position to comment on this minimalist desk. After all, I built my own minimalist desk from the wood of a discarded water bed and some old bookcases. Mine is 48 cm deep, more than OneLessDesk's 42 cm, and 39 cm.

Friday 11 January 2008

Contacting Apple about Repairs

Since I was up around dawn, I connected to Apple's online chat help for the iMac. I have Applecare to cover the iMac for three years. Got a friendly chap who had me go through several of the steps I had already tried. When it became obvious that these would not fix the problem, he gave me a case number.

Not being sure what to do next (never had a fault before on Apple that I couldn't fix), when it was late enough to phone Apple, I did so. Anthony checked my serial number and case number. He mentioned that I was the first person he had heard of using the chat helpline. The chat would not however know local conditions. Gave me a list of authorised Apple service agents that was much more extensive than I could find at the Apple web site.

I initially planned to take the iMac to Townsville. However that is a 600 km round trip, which means it would need to be planned for when we already needed to go there. Finally decided to take it to Mackay, which means we would certainly be coming home mid afternoon the same day. Jean also wanted some excuse to escape from home. We planned to do the trip on Monday.

Saturday 12 January 2008

Apple buyer's remorse claims Nick Wingfield in the Wall Street Journal. He says rapid change may disappoint customers with older models. Especially when new models appear so fast.

Perhaps customers should try harder to work out what they need rather than what they want, and purchase something appropriate? The author may be confusing remorse with envy. Technology should be making older technologies obsolete. Or would you prefer to work shoeing horses and shovelling manure off the streets?

I wonder whether that opinion piece is the quality of material we can expect from the Wall Street Journal now that Rupert Murdoch has bought Dow Jones? Or perhaps most of the past articles were also mildly lame? Given most TV news seems more than slightly lame, perhaps 90% of everything really is crap.

Sunday 13 January 2008

Heavy Rain

We had a classic monsoonal low over the nearby coast. I kept having to empty the rain gauge on the Whitsunday Terraces balcony. Naturally when the rain was heavy, I was reluctant to do so, and the water overflowed. So on Sunday we had at least 215 mm of rain.

After the heavy rain of a few weeks ago, the ground was nicely saturated. Water pooled all over. We were lucky that most of the roof leaks at the resort were already fixed. Naturally some still resist locating, and we don't know where the leaks are.

Telstra Unbundled Local Loop Price determination

Primus Telecom was awarded a $14.30 a month access fee to Telstra copper wiring, after an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission decision. Telstra wanted a base fee of $30 a month until 2010. Although the Primus decision does not change rates for other ISPs, it does indicate that ACCC is unlikely to accept Telstra's $30 charge in other cases. I am looking forward to other ISPs challenging for better ULLS access.

Monday 14 January 2008


Local flooding in Airlie Beach and throughout the Whitsundays. We had another 240 mm of rain. Flash flooding damaged stores in Airlie Beach and closed Proserpine airport, as well as closing roads. Around 50 homes were flooded. The Bruce Highway was cut north and south of Proserpine. Shute Harbour Road was cut at Myrtle Creek bridge and Hamilton Plains. Cannon Valley Road flooded at Crofton Creek. Water was across the road at Jubilee Pocket and Cannonvale. Residents were rescued from their homes at Jubilee Pocket, when Campbell Creek flooded Maeva Street and Sentry Court. Several Sentry Court residents and their dogs were rescued by Queensland Fire and Rescue Service after rental properties flooded. Tropic Road had bitumen ripped out by flooding and mud.There was a landslide at Gregory Court in Cannonvale, damaging the street. There was a landslide onto Watersun Road near Waters Edge.

Jones Road, Cannonvale had flooding where water, mud and rocks ran into homes at the base of the hill. The intersection of Jones Road and Eshelby Drive was also flooded a year ago, after development activities at the top of Jones Road changed water courses and led to a landslide.

Hermitage drive was covered in mud on Monday. The driveway at Colonial Palms Motor Inn on the low side of Hermitage Drive was coated in thick mud. Spokesman Richard Fries, for Latitude Development Group, constructing Peppers Resort above Hermitage Drive on Mount Whitsunday, said five or six open cut development sites on the hill had collapsed in the rain on Sunday night. Erosion controls at Peppers had held up well in earlier rain on Boxing Day. I wonder why they consider 350 mm in 24 hours exceptional? I have measured that on my nearby balcony several times. [In February it was reported in Whitsunday Coast Guardian that council were issuing a Show Cause notice to an unnamed Hermitage Drive area developer.]

At least three planes had to be diverted from Proserpine airport, although the airport didn't actually close. The airport was also cut off from town, preventing passenger movement in either direction. Hamilton Island flights got through.

The Disaster Management Group had about 60 calls. State Emergency Services had 84 calls, to rescue stranded 7 people, 17 flooded people, attend two landslides, three medical emergencies and 56 calls for sandbags. Residents were reported to have used 2000 sandbags. The Whitsundays and Bowen were declared a natural disaster zone the following day. Initial reports of damage were around $3 million.

Store owners on Shute Harbour Road, the main street of Airlie Beach want council action about flooded Airlie Creek. The creek flooded shops including Chemcoast Pharmacy and Fancy Fish on Sunday night.

After the 1991 rainfall of more than two metres, Mackay District Engineer, the late John Hill, did a flood study of feeds to Airlie Creek. A larger culvert and bridge being built. Development was restricted to areas with a gradient below 16%. Since then, developments have proceeded in areas which appear to have considerably greater gradients than 16 degrees. Understandably, runoff has also increased considerably.

Airlie Beach lagoon was closed due to debris.

Average rainfall in the Whitsundays in January is 253mm for the entire month.

Political Petitions

What happens to a petition to the Australian Parliament? It seems that since 1901, almost all petitions were simply tabled and filed. This includes 900 petitions signed by a million Australians over the past three years. Two were responded to, according to a Labor spokesman.

Labor claims it will set up a ten person committee to review petitions and propose government action of issues raised. The committee will include six government and four non-government members of the House of Representatives.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Macworld Tomorrow

For those of us heaps of timezones away, Macworld is tomorrow. I am looking forward to what is announced, however with so much Apple gear requiring infrastructure that doesn't exist in some countries, I remain pessimistic about what will appear for me.

iPhone is a good example. The only national network here with wide coverage outside major cities is Telstra NextG. As in 3G, HSDPA and similar alphabet soup. I live way outside any major city. Apple isn't likely to announce 3G until they absolutely have to. Why knock down sales of a perfectly reasonable GSM/EDGE phone? Maybe they will kick the iPhone memory up with a 16 GB model.

Penryn is incremental improvement. Nothing wrong with that. But incremental improvement isn't exciting. I always figure it is time to replace a computer when the next one has four times the performance, on real life tasks. Replacing a single processor iMac G5 at 2 GHz with a Core2 Duo, even at 2.8 GHz, is not four times the performance. Replacing a Powerbook G4 1.25 GHz ... that sounds like it might be. However I no longer use a laptop as often as I once did, so a laptop is a little indulgent. On the other hand, mobile Penryn isn't that far away, and it is about time for a MacBook Pro update. LED backlights for the 17 inch model, perhaps.

Macworld Lacks Surprise

We know Steve Jobs will do a great keynote. iPhone sales were great, iPod sales were up, Mac sales were up. Best holiday sales season ever. iTunes gets an update to support video rentals at silly prices, but only available in the USA. Plus the DRM will suck. iPhones get bricked again, but some third party applications, probably games, will be announced. The iPhone SDK will be announced February, just like they said it would. Apple TV gets a software upgrade at least, and maybe AppleTV version 2, so that it can handle the video rentals from your TV. No DVR capability, because watching TV sucks anyhow. The USB port turns out to be of use after all.

Dot Mac gets some love, but no-one cares. Expected to compete with Exchange, open standards, and all that good stuff. But too many people have been burnt by .Mac. Syncing is going to be really important, but not enough people see it as yet.

Time Machine finally goes wireless, with an Air Disk that actually works with Airport Extreme base station. After all, who actually gets around to hooking up their Firewire drive to do their Time Machine backup? Going wireless will be real important. On the other hand, if it is important to you, just physically connect the backup drive to some other Macintosh, and turn file sharing on.

Backing Up iMac

The final missing item in my backup was my /users/shared space. This was not available via file sharing. Luckily target mode from the iMac does work. I had to use a USB drive as the place to store the files, since my Powerbook lacked the space. Apple say not to use a second Firewire drive while using Target mode.

Wednesday 16 January 2008

iPhone Software update

iPhone software update v1.1.3 adds free location finding to the maps (not via a GPS, done by triangulation). Create web clips linking to URLs on your home page. Customise your home screen with icons, or create up to 9 home screens. SMS to multiple recipients. Save history of your SMS. Watch movies rented via iTunes. All sound worthwhile, but most are catchup with existing phone facilities.

Since the iPhone isn't sold in Australia, this is all a bit ho hum to me. Especially since it still can't do cut and paste!

iTunes Movie Rentals

As expected, iTunes Movie Rentals, after upgrade to iTunes 7.6. Studios included Fox, Disney, Warner. Paramount, Universal, Sony, MGM, Lionsgate, New Line. More studios co-operating than I ever expected. Watch sub-DVD standard 640 x 480 movies on Mac or PC with iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and AppleTV. Apple say 1000 movies available by March, 100 of them in high definition (probably 1280 x 720) for AppleTV only. Prices US$2.99 for library, US$3.99 for new releases, a dollar more for high definition. The complaints about high pricing should commence immediately, followed by the complaints about sub-DVD quality when someone notices.

Download movies to iTunes, or to AppleTV. Up to 30 days to start watching, 24 hours to complete viewing or watch again. Movies not available until 30 days after DVD release. Sounds like a reasonably good convenience feature, if you have the bandwidth. My closest VideoEzy is 6 km away, in a location I would visit only once a week at best. I basically buy DVDs because paying extra is easier than returning rentals. The iTunes HD movies for AppleTV are rental only, the obvious option to buy is not available. Naturally all this movie rental is USA only for the moment, so it is of limited use to me even if I had enough bandwidth.

AppleTV gets new software. Supports 5.1 sound from HD movies that only AppleTV can download or play (AppleTV has HDCP and HDMI, Apple computers do not). Rent and watch direct from Apple TV via your big screen, no computer involved. Also watch iTunes podcast directory, shows and music videos from iTunes, plus video from YouTube. AppleTV purchases are automatically synced back to their iTunes. No indication of whether AppleTV can now play Video_TS folders like FrontRow can in Leopard. That would give AppleTV a bit more reason to exist. No upgrade to the AppleTV hardware however. What I hadn't initially noticed is that the old AppleTV hardware has now dropped in price from US$299 to US$229, or US$399 to US$329. I do not believe the price has dropped in Australia. The Australian price is A$449 for 40GB, and A$579 for 160GB. This is at least A$160 above the US price. Compare that with the US$299 or US$399 iPod Touch, reduced to A$399 and A$499.

AppleTV and iTunes Movie Rentals seem to me to have too many restrictions, and too high a price to be worthwhile. Another ho hum item. The only reason I don't get my entertainment on bit torrent is I don't have the bandwidth. I would be really happy to pay for a convenient legal product without DRM, but the studios don't want to supply that. Meanwhile, I buy DVDs and rip when I want a portable version. This is not convenient. But if I couldn't rip DVDs, I wouldn't buy any DVDs.

MacBook Air

Thin aluminium notebook computer that can not be upgraded at all. Full size backlit keyboard with ambient light sensor, the last two items normally on the Pro models only. A large multi-touch pad. A 13.3 inch Macbook standard 1280 x 800 glossy display, but with a LED backlit. The graphics is built in Intel GMA X3100 using 144 MB of main memory, similar to a regular Macbook. Built in iSight video camera, and a built in microphone. Specially packaged 20 watt TDP 1.6 GHz or 1.8 GHz 65 nm (not Penryn) Core2 Duo CPU, in a miniature package Intel scheduled for Montevina in SH 2008. It is sacrificing speed for power consumption, but in such a small package may still run hot. Luckily 2 GB main memory is sufficient, as no expansion is possible. 802.11n (plus a, b and g), Bluetooth 2.1. Dimensions are 32.5 cm wide x 22.7 cm deep, exactly the same as a regular MacBook. The thickness is between 1.94 cm and 0.4 cm, which is a good bit thinner than a Macbook. Weight is 1.36 kg, about half my 15 inch Powerbook.

View the Keynote at Apple.

80 GB parallel ATA hard drive, with sudden motion sensor. However a 1.8 inch iPod drive will be slow and I suspect fragile. I also note a 160 GB iPod drive exists, and wonder if it is any more robust? The 160 GB drive is probably a two platter design, and thus thicker. Apple made special efforts to reduce drive access in the iPod. I have no idea whether 1.8 inch drives are now robust enough for continuous use. I tend to doubt it. An optional 64 GB solid state drive is the right way to go eventually. The pricing is still too high as at this release. Also, solid state disk and a journaling file system sound like a perfect way to destroy the limited write life of solid state drives to me. I imagine Apple engineers know more than I do about their potential working life.

Claims up to 5 hours of battery life from the 37 watt hour lithium polymer battery. The battery is internal and can not be removed. The blogs will complain about the battery. The public will mostly not understand the fuss. Sure, parting with your computer for battery repairs will be a pain, but it shouldn't happen often. I am typing this on a Powerbook with a four year old battery.

Magsafe 45 watt power adaptor. Has a dropdown port door holding a micro DVI port for external displays up to 1920 x 1200, a single USB port and a headphone jack. MicroDVI to standard DVI, and Micro DVI to VGA adaptors are included. You can get composite or S-video adaptors as options. No Ethernet, but a USB to Ethernet adaptor is an optional extra (US$29), as is a USB modem (US$50). No Firewire, so you can't import video from a DV camcorder. It does not come with the IR remote for Front Row, and I can't see whether it has the required IR port, unless that is it at the front right. This is very much a MacBook, not a MacBook Pro class machine, especially with the missing parts and slow CPU.

No optical drive. MacBook Air USB SuperDrive is an extra US$99. Optical drives draw more power than the USB standard allows (2.5 watts), so optical drives that lack external power would not work. Apple have allowed the Macbook Air to supply the additional power the Air drive requires. However the Air drive would not get enough power to run from other computers that correctly follow USB standards (powered hubs would probably work fine however, since they never follow power standards). It is not the first computer to lack an optical drive. I am not sure I would bother with an optical drive these days. Hardly ever use one. You can use an optical drive from any of your other computers via WiFi with the remote drive facility. Apple are probably a little early in dropping these legacy parts and ports, but for home users, I think it will work. It would for me.

People who want a small, lightweight computer, but demand more peripheral ports, should check out the Dell XPS M1330. Provided you can tolerate Windows (I can't). The Dell specifications are better. If you install Linux, the Dell might be better yet. The only real problem Dell have with their computers is that they come with Windows. My experience is Dell (or Toshiba or Lenovo) are reliable and robust, and reasonable value for money. But they come with Windows.

The MacBook Air is very much a throw away computer appliance, intended as a second or third system. I can see this matching great with my iMac and Powerbook. It will only partly replace my Powerbook, but is good enough for a couple of years. You buy AppleCare to cover the battery replacement, and other failures. You plan on replacing with a new model every two or three years. This one feels like an interim design. Something to get people used to the idea of going wireless, and giving up ports and rotating drives. It works a lot easier if tied into the Apple ecosystem of Time Capsule, a desktop Macintosh, wireless connected printers, Air Tunes via Airport Express, and even AppleTV. That Apple ecosystem is fine by me. I was headed in that direction anyhow, with all my music and some of my video.

Hardware manuals for MacBook Air.

Now, where is the Macslate Air? The touch screen slate computer that also abandons the keyboard and touchpad, and is even slimmer. But with an Express Card port. Waiting for scheduled Intel (and other) parts to become available.

Time Capsule

Time capsule is a great name. Upgraded AirPort Extreme 802.11n style wireless base station with included 500 GB (US$299) or terabyte (US$499) hard drive. Has three Gigabit LAN ports, one Gigabit WAN port. To make it easy for multiple notebook owners to backup via Time Machine. Wireless network addressed storage have been around for years, but mostly were pretty clunky to make work, as well as slow. You can also do the same with any drive connected to another Mac acting as a file server. Kiss your NAS goodbye indeed. I could see this one for grandparents who don't understand how to backup. Or small offices where everyone runs a laptop. However I think they missed badly in not providing Air Tunes as well. That would make this gadget a must have single appliance for small apartments. As it is, it might be better (but harder) to configure a Mac mini to do the work.

Australian price is A$699 for the terabyte version of Time Capsule. This is a little more than 10% over the US price once taxes and conversion are taken into account. Not too bad.

I think I will wait for the reviews on this one. I do think that it is heading in the right direction. However so was the Airport Extreme Air Disk. Apple website now mentions hard drive sharing in its Airport Extreme notes. I am sure that is new, so perhaps Air Disk is back and working. However Apple Wifi notes say no Time Machine except on the Time Capsule. Maybe it was too hard to make work consistently on every weird brand of USB drive out there?

iPod Touch Software

Paid for (US$20) software upgrade for iPod Touch, to add some iPhone features. Mail, maps, stocks and weather. Web Clips, customisable home screen. Watch iTunes movie rentals. I am not sure any of that stuff works outside the USA. Well, Mail and Notes should be OK. Just Notes would have convinced me.

Is Apple trying to set up an application sales infrastructure? As well as third party applications when the SDK is released, sell its own applications just as it does iLife. Seems a fairly reasonable approach to squeezing some more profit out. I do note iPod Touch is accounted for at once, not over a period like the iPhone or AppleTV.

It is also possible that an iPod Touch would appear too competitive with an iPhone, if a potential buyer could compare them side by side. Now Apple have sold 4 million iPhones, they know their sales figures are holding up.

The iPod Touch is now showing in the Australia store as A$399 and A$499. That is a price drop from the A$419 and A$549 I had seen in Harvey Norman when the iPod Touch was released.

Apple Sales

iPhone sold 4 million in 200 days, an average of 20,000 a day. iPhone SDK is still scheduled for February. New software includes Google maps for London, web clips, multiple contacts when sending SMS. Yawn.

Twenty million iTune songs sold on Xmas Day (a gift card handles last minute shopping). Total songs sold, 4 billion.

Over five million copies of Leopard sold. Almost 20% of the user base have moved to Leopard.

Thursday 17 January 2008

Bento Database

Ars Technica reports an interview with Filemaker Bento developers. Claim Bento uses Core Data and SQLite. Core Data allows the hooks into Address Book and iCal. Alas, scripting of SQLite does not seem something Bento is likely to offer. More collections and themes, rather than flexibility.

Apple Powerbook G4 Battery

My Powerbook battery gauge was still showing good life, despite its age. So I decided to check how long it was lasting. At 6:40 it said I had three hours. However when it got to 8:30, it abruptly dropped from having a fair amount of time to being about to die. So I got only 1:50 from my battery. Time to calibrate my Powerbook computer battery again so it shows accurate battery life.

Download Music Free

I was surprised at how many places have free music available for download. I usually use get the free iTunes weekly song. However often has Australian material. has covers. has live recordings has the Citations Shame and Scandle!

Friday 18 January 2008

iPhone Webclip Icons

Apple's guide to iPhone content design includes details of how to make iPhone and iPod Touch webclips.

Webmasters may like this article by Dan Dickinson on how to make iPhone Webclip icons, so your site has a proper icon when someone uses it as a webclip. Playground Blues say ignore the 57x57 PNG, and go with a 60x60 webclip at 72 dpi until more reports are in. iPhone webclips seem to be scaled anyhow, and are 59x60 pixels. 60x60 at 163ppi may be best (an iPhone is 163ppi).

Drew McLelland explains how to use a link element with webclips, so you can have different webclips for any area of your site.

You can also add your own style of webclips to any site using a Javascript bookmarklet. Then add the bookmarklet to your bookmarks in Safari, and sync the Safari bookmarks to your iPhone or iPod Touch. This can also be used to add arbitrary size stand alone web pages (say a ToDo bookmarklet) to an iPod touch.

Laptop Power Supply To Go

What to do when you laptop battery is low? Black and Decker Laptop Power To Go Cordless AC/USB Power Supply is an integrated inverter and battery that charges from 9.6 volts DC, and outputs 115 volts AC at 80 watts. Also has a couple of USB outlets. Contains a 4Ah NiMH battery. Black and Decker make several different models, none of which are probably available in Australia.

iPod Touch Applications

Around 5 a.m. I started downloading iTunes 7.6 to my Powerbook, and other outstanding updates. Had to change my original uptimelog script to stick the uptime log someplace sensible (like the logs folder), as I had with the version on my iMac. I also backed up my AddressBook and iCal, as I knew I would be trying to sync newer material to them from my iPod Touch.

The new iTunes let me connect to my iPod Touch (originally paired with my failed iMac). I decided to update the iPod Touch to v1.1.3. What I didn't realise was that this was an enormous download. I had originally downloaded iTunes and other stuff early, to avoid download limits during the day. The iPod Touch firmware upgrade seemed to work.

I couldn't sync iCal. After several tries (where I disconnected when it seemed hung) I synced calendar by calendar. I am not at all confident all my changes got through. Certainly the ToDo list failed to make it. Some of the changes to AddressBook did make it across. Too early to decide whether I got them all. I plan to use the Powerbook iCal and AddressBook as read only until I get my iMac repaired, so I am not too worried about this.

I lost all my music from my iPod Touch. iTunes claimed it would move purchased music over if I authorised my Powerbook as a second computer. However that didn't work at all. Again, I am not too worried. I have a complete copy of my iMac original iTunes library on an external USB disk.

iTunes seemed to accept my purchases of the new applications, however it got lost in a loop of agreeing to terms and conditions. No sign of the new applications. I eventually tried a second time, after checking forum posts. This time, with my Powerbook already authorised, the applications appeared just fine (well, minus music, as I mentioned). iTunes always seems touchy to me when I do anything unusual. I am never sure it is working correctly.

People unwilling to pay for iPod Touch applications can find instructions on installing application on an iPod Touch after using Jailbreak. Weather, stocks and maps were among the first to be moved to the iPod Touch from the iPhone by hackers.

iPod Touch Weather Application

The new weather widget application I downloaded for my iPod Touch seems to get its information from Yahoo. However there seems no list of Yahoo Location IDs to determine which towns the Yahoo Weather service covers. At the moment, the closest I can find are Mackay (150 km) and Townsville (300 km). This isn't all that much use. Weather Underground have Proserpine (20 km - actually probably the airport at 30 km and not at all similar to here) and Hamilton Island (about 20 km, but a similar climate).

Does anyone happen to have any idea where to get a list of locations Yahoo uses? Examples of using Yahoo Weather RSS feeds seem to assume you somehow have the location ID already. Page scraping Yahoo Weather expresses frustration about how to find Location IDs.

iPod Touch Stocks Application

This seems to draw on Yahoo Finance for its stock items. so far I have no idea how to get it to list Australian stocks. That link is however the starting point. Yahoo have a list of the stock quotes available.

On the other hand, I was able to find Yahoo's currency converter. This listed the Australian dollar to USA dollar conversion as AUDUSD=X, so I added that to the iPod Touch as a stock. It looks a little messy, but does provide the conversion rate, but only in cents. This article explains how to add exchange rates. Pity I didn't see the article before I fiddled.

Using the various foreign pages, and Yahoo's list, I was able to add the Gold prices, and the Australian All Ordinaries. Australian stocks are just their regular code with .ax added. Seems to work just fine.

iPod Touch Applications

How do I back up the iPod Touch Applications. The file is located at ~/Library/iTunes/Mobile Applications.

Once you have copied the "iPod touch App Pack 4A93.ipa" file to the computer with your home library, make a new folder named Mobile Applications in the correct location, and place the "iPod touch App Pack 4A93.ipa" file there. Open iTunes and sync your iPod touch.

Death of High Fidelity

Robert Levine writes in Rolling Stone of the death of high fidelity. Once again, producers blame high sound levels and compressed dynamic range for destroying music quality. All part of the loudness war, until you just give up listening to music. Why does today's music sound like shit? This question occurs on panels at music festivals. It sounds bad because it is recorded like TV commercial sound. Rolling Stone is very late noticing that music is dead, turned into Prozac to cure silence.

The article has an interesting bunch of visual comparisons of the compression applied to various modern recordings, compared with older versions. Shows very clearly how the loudness war has killed music. You get a blast of sound suited only to bars, cars and other noisy environments.

Isn't it about time to ban music in cars? The same as we ban mobile phones in cars, and for the same reason. Distractions like music increase the accident rate, just like cell phone increase the accident rate. If you are going to drive, then just drive. The inside of a car isn't a lounge room, and should not be equipped like one.

Saturday 19 January 2008

Data Dot DNA

DataDot protects assets by spraying items with tiny laser inscribed dots. Users register their property in a database that police can access when stolen goods are recovered.

Put Files on Your iPod Touch

Filemark Maker creates Bookmarklets for an iPod Touch. This stores all the data in a web page as data in the URL. Then you treat it as a bookmark to move it to the iPod Touch. This is a means of storing actual files such as HTML or PDF on a iPod Touch, and access them via Safari. It means you can create self contained web applications, provided all content is in one web page. The droplet is also available as a Perl script for use by other operating systems. I can see this being really handy for putting ebooks on an iPod Touch.

Wikipedia's article on data URI includes references. A more extensive article on data URI from Sveinbjorn Thordarson, author of Platypus.

See this TUAW article on how to put Notes on your iPod using Automator. It makes it easier to jot simple notes than using a text editor. The disadvantage of Notes on an iPod is that the text is so small it is essentially impossible to read without a magnifying glass. This Automator notes method works on older model iPods, it does not work on the iPod Touch.

Sunday 20 January 2008

Top 50 Dystopian Movies

I enjoyed this descriptive list of the top 50 dystopian movies. A bunch of science fiction there, plus several SF films I hadn't thought to try to find.

AppleTV Rental Resolution

Is it really true that USA rental movies for AppleTV from iTunes Store are actually 8xx*480 widescreen, not 640x480 or 640x360? It is a pity that is not 480p widescreen or something close enough. It doesn't make them PAL DVD quality (720x576), but would be equal to NTSC DVD (720x480). It is the 640x480 of the iPod, stretched for widescreen.

This is getting interesting, given Apple have the major US movie studios on board. I am astonished they managed that. One question is whether the future demand is for 1080p movies, or for convenient HD-lite 1280x720 movies even at the lower resolution. The answer determines whether either Blu-ray or HD-DVD survive as anything except a niche market. I think both HD-DVD and Blu-ray are dead on arrival. Another question is whether people prefer subscriptions, or would rather buy a higher priced movie when they feel like watching a specific movie. That determines whether Netflix, cable and similar will stay in the market.

You are not going to get HD downloads to a computer, unless that computer has digital restrictions management through the entire video chain, with HDCP. There is no HDCP support in OS X. The people who want Blu-ray drives on an Apple computer are deluding themselves. On the other hand, AppleTV does have HDCP and HDMI, so it can connect to a HD TV.

Cable isn't available where I live except in VHS quality, and neither is TV thanks to the distribution system. I still can't see any alternative except buying DVDs and ripping them. Since iTunes rentals are not available here, and bandwidth too limited anyhow, I won't be an AppleTV customer. However if Telstra ever switch on ADSL2+, AppleTV would jump to a good choice for me.

Monday 21 January 2008

Safari Bookmarklets for iPod Touch

It turned out the method I needed to search for was evil browser bookmarklets. There are a bunch of tips for writing bookmarklets. Extensive list of bookmarklets.

USB On The Go

Some hardware changes allow USB devices to communicate without a host computer, as explained in this Maxim application note. This supplemental connection idea is called USB On-The-Go. Typical uses include stuff like letting a Nokia N810 tablet read a USB external memory store, by modifying the USB cable. Some cameras can also do the same trick.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Mackay For iMac Service

The floods of a week ago had declined, as had the threat of further heavy rain. So we packed a few changes of clothes, just in case, and set out for Mackay around 8 a.m. Jean drove the whole way, her furthest drive in over six months. There sure are some full creeks on the way, and the grassland and new growth in the cane fields looked lush.

No fuss at 10 a.m. at Matilda Internet Service, the agents for Apple in Mackay. No real paperwork involved in putting my iMac G5 ALS in for repair. I had my Applecare number, and the case number I got from Apple back on the 11 January. About the only thing wrong was their service guy was busy, and they couldn't say how long the repair might take. I was rather expecting a delay.

We visited Caneland so Jean could get more walking practice in, and get some lunch. Didn't find anything else worth buying. We also visited Spotlight seeking material for Hawaiian shirts and for seat covers. No luck for me, but Jean found two purple lengths she liked. Jean had me drive back home, having used up all her energy on the drive down, and walking in the air conditioning at Caneland.

Apple December Quarter Report

Apple shares dropped 7.2% to below US$150 early today. They are down 15% from the start of the year. However lots of other shares also dropped.

Apple first quarter reports. First quarter sales were US$9.6 billion (up 35% from US$7.1 in 2006), profit up 58% to US$1.58 billion (US$1 in 2006), US$1.76 per share up from US$1.14. Analyst predictions averaged 14 cents less. Gross margins rose to 34.7% from 31.2%. International sales were 45% of total. Cash flow from operations US$2.7 billion, and cash balances US$18.4 billion. These are all record high figures.

Apple said it expected revenue to fall to US$6.8 billion, and 94 cents earnings per diluted share in the second quarter, around 29% above the previous year. This is typical of their conservative guidance. Analysts were expecting up to US$1.09, which seems to me to indicate analysts often don't know what they are doing. Investors got spooked, and Apple dropped to US$138.58 in after hours trading. D'oh! Like, Xmas sales never boosted your December quarter? Not that I don't think Apple is overpriced on its present figures.

Shipped 2,319,000 Macintosh (44% unit growth, 47% revenue growth). Apple sold over a half million Macs in their own 204 Apple Stores, up 64% over the past year. Laptop sales up 38% to 1,342,00. Desktop sales up an astonishing 53% to 977,000, mostly on the iMac. Apple America sales were 841,00 Macs, and nearly US $4.3 billion. This is up 35% for items and 22% for revenue. Apple Europe sales were 705,000 and US$2.47 billion, up 44% and 36% for revenue. Macs were 47% of total revenue. Inventory is below Apple's 4-6 week target.

Apple sold 22,121,000 iPods, and 2,315,000 iPhones. iPod Touch had growth. Apple are now talking about iPod Touch as a mainstream, mobile, WiFi platform running all kinds of mobile applications. I wonder whether this means a larger Touch type package? I hope so.

Not sure why anyone is worrying that a company with cash reserves of over US$18 billion will struggle. Most of their product lines are constrained by awaiting new technologies that are running a little behind schedule. I think Apple intended to announce a few other upgrades, but product wasn't going to be available. Penryn mobile for their biggest selling notebook computers, none of which have been upgraded recently, has been slightly delayed. Solid state drives are expensive, and higher capacity ones will be slower and arrive later. Moves into rental media are probably a year behind when Apple wished to have them. This second quarter may be slow, but things will not stay that way. I think Apple are doing just fine long term.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Air Conditioning

Yesterday was about the first day I left off the air conditioning at the Whitsunday Terraces this year (except when rain cooled things). It wasn't too bad this morning, after the early morning shower. I managed a couple of walks before it got too hot. However by 2 p.m., I was ready to give up. Air conditioning is wonderful.

Webcast Courses

Berkley have some very nice educational course podcasts. I saw a note of this Berkley course on the structure and interpretation of on computer programs, that includes Alan Kay's 1962 video on user interface design. I wonder what stuff is happening now that will completely change the future of computers?

Thursday 24 January 2008

MacBook Air Reviews

The first of the MacBook Air reviews have started to appear. Most of the newspaper reviewers didn't have much to say that you couldn't work out from the keynote and Apple web site videos. Steven Levy on MacBook Air in Newsweek mentions it doesn't run as hot as regular Apple laptops. Edward Baig reviews MacBook Air for USA Today. He got 3 hours 40 minutes battery life while web surfing, writing and using remote disk. However a hour less while watching a downloaded video. At the Wall Street Journal Walt Mossberg reviews the MacBook Air. Thin but omits features. Somehow that headline doesn't seem news, but maybe it is to WSJ readers. He mentions you can't play DVDs using the remote drive. Walt got 3 hours 24 minutes while playing music, with screen set to brightest and WiFi on.

Apart from the lack of ports, the non-removeable battery gets most comment. Most people still don't seem to understand that laptop computers do not run on batteries. Laptop computers hold their breath between power points. The first full size computer with a 24 hour battery life will show that point very clearly.

Birthday of Apple Macintosh

Wired point to the birth of a cool computer, 24 January 1984 being the release date of the first Apple Macintosh. An all in one with 128 KB of ram, a 3.5 inch floppy drive, two serial points, a nine inch 340 x 512 black and white display. But it was the first easily available commercial GUI computer with a mouse. Apple sold 50,000 in three months.

It was announced with a 1984 Ridley Scott commercial aired during the Super Bowl.

Friday 25 January 2008


The last issue of The Bulletin news magazine, after around 130 years of publication. It seems not all print media pays. A pity to lose an iconic Australian magazine.

Unsocial Apple

A former Apple employee blogs about life after Apple. Jens Alfke pushed the instant messaging chat side of iChat, and is fascinated by social software. I find his comments interesting, because apart from usenet, I loath social networks online. Not that I have even tried iChat in four years - who would I contact? Must check his site later to see what Mac applications he is working on.

iMac Repair

The computer shop in Mackay phoned up just before midday to tell me that my iMac G5 had been repaired. This was faster than I expected, since the logic board had to be replaced. I expected it to take longer to get a replacement board. Too late for us to conveniently drive to Mackay, so we will collect it on Monday.

Optical Disks Are Dead

The DVD war is not between Blu-ray and HD-DVD. That was just a battle. The true war is whether all the optical disk formats become bit players.

The record producers tried to produce a better replacement for CD, in the battle between DVD-Audio and SACD. Both are now niche formats. Old fashioned records sell better! Everyone knows how CDs are now in decline, and digital media continues to rise. Over the last few years I put all my music CDs on computer. Took some time, but not much effort, and the results are great. I don't even have a CD player these days.

While the movie studios fight it out with HD-DVD and Blu-ray, it is all too possible that they could suffer the same fate. Blu-ray or HD DVD - neither, says Lucas Mearian in Computerworld.

With hard drive space increasing by 60% a year at a constant dollar cost, I intend to simply store my 500+ DVDs (and increasing) on hard drives over the next few years. Just like my CDs. Far more convenient to be able to get at a movie over the network. Even now the cost of doing so is only around $2 a movie, and dropping fast. I figure around 100 terabyte sometime early next decade would be about the right amount of space.

Optical disks are now just an old fashioned distribution media, convenient only when you physically visit a store.

Saturday 26 January 2008

Gizmodo Macbook Air Teardown

Gizmodo Macbook Air Teardown provides some nice early photos of the interior of the Macbook Air. Battery is large, but thin. Looks like the battery may be part of the support structure for the whole shell.

An even better MacBook Air teardown from iFixit appeared a little later. They show the (small) size of the MacBook Air 45 watt power supply, compared to other Apple sower supplies. The magsafe adaptor is at length wise along the cable, and looks more sturdy to me. Ten 3 mm Philips 00 screws hold the case together, another 9 hold the battery in place. Easy enough to replace the battery. Three different ribbon cables cross the hard drive, which will make removing it more difficult. A Realtek ALC885 audio codec drives the 20 mm speaker under the arrow keys. Also drives the headphone socket.

Usual Apple attention to directing air flow. Fan is centred and small.

The 80 GB Samsung HS081HB/A disk drive is very close to the fan. The drive is a 4200 rpm PATA with a 2 MB buffer. Spin up is 400 mA, seek is 0.8 Watt, read/write 0.9 Watt, idle is 0.3 Watt. Standby and sleep are each 0.07 Watt. Weight is 48 g. Width is 71 mm, length 54 mm, height a mere 5 mm. No way the 160 GB drive will fit, since that is a double platter around 8 mm high.

One thing I don't understand is that Samsung solid state drives appear to have a SATA interface. This would imply that they would not be a direct replacement for the PATA used in the MacBook Air.

Apple really don't have a lot of space in there.

Optical Disks Are Dead (II)

If you want to play Blu-ray or HD-DVD movies on a MacBook Air using an external drive, then you would probably be out of luck. Except for the AppleTV, none of the Apple models have HDMI. In particular, they lack the HDCP restrictions on the video output. Any Blu-ray movie output from a Blu-ray player would be only at DVD standard anyhow.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD are a way for the movie studios to lock up their content. They are not something to help out consumers.

Nothing stopping you creating high definition content on an Apple. Just write it as data to a DVD. Or set it up on a web site for download, like Apple HD movie trailers. The whole HD-DVD and Blu-ray thing is a power play by the movie producers, to take control of whether you can ever copy content you buy.

When we see HD movie previews, they are extracts that do not have copy restrictions. They work well. Whole movies are restricted by the studios.

Does this remind anyone of the iPod and DRM music?

Sunday 27 January 2008

Free Energy Solar Air Conditioner

Very clever idea from Patrick Ward for solar powered attic air conditioner. Uses attic heated air to dry out cartridges of desiccant, then exhausts attic air. Cooler outside air reduces temperature differential in attic. Previously dried desiccant dehumidifies incoming air, and latent heat of vaporisation to the desiccant. Heat-pipe heat exchanger cools incoming air with cool outgoing air. Idea is to dramatically reduce air conditioning demand by not having to remove the latent heat of vaporisation.

More conventional solar air conditioning uses evacuated tube solar thermal panels and absorption chillers with low running costs. No compressor required. More background on solar air conditioning tricks.

Monday 28 January 2008

Degunk My Macintosh - Mac OS9

My iMac is away for repairs, so I have been using my Powerbook more extensively than usual. However the 80 GB (actually 74.53 GB) drive has only 8.64 GB remaining, so it is starting to get tight. Applications contained 5.3 GB. Applications for Mac OS 9 were 170 MB. Developer 954 MB. Library was 10.84 GB. System was 4.02 GB. System Folder was 175 MB. My User space occupied 34.49 GB, 34.12 GB of it in my main account. That makes 55.949 GB, so there is almost 10 GB hidden. Time to check bin, cores, private, sbin, usr, var and so on, in case any are gigantic. Private had 2.38 GB, but includes 2.37 GB of var, of which 2 GB is vm. Usr had 1.29 GB. Total 59.619 GB, so there is still over 6 GB missing and unexplained.

The file size figures all come from the standard GUI Info popup. More detailed figures can be had from the command line using df and du. There is a shareware Whatsize file size utility from ID-Design. Or try the free and open source Disk Inventory X for treemaps.

I can't see any reason to keep anything relating to Mac OS9. It was on my Powerbook when I got it with Panther, but I have updated to Tiger and Leopard since then. I didn't need any legacy Mac OS9 programs. So Applications for Mac OS9, and System Folder can go. Not much help there, with only 345 MB.

Degunk My Macintosh - Dashboard and Desktop

It isn't that clearing the Dashboard saves space. It is that clutter accumulates all over, especially when other people drop applications on you. I removed Numbers and Keynote and a few others I rarely use from my Dashboard. Most applications can be opens very quickly from Spotlight. I also removed some folders, left over from when folders would pop open in hierarchical view. I will put them back when Leopard gets the hierarchical view back in Stacks.

I also removed a fair amount of clutter from the desktop. Dumping everything there really slows down your system, since each item gets treated in a processor intensive manner.

I thought about removing superfluous fonts. However Monolingual has not been updated for Leopard. There are several reports of recent problems running it on Leopard. Tuaw recommend Youpi Optimiser, but that is also not yet Leopard ready, and users complained it wrecked applications. Mike Bombich's DeLocalizer hasn't even been tested on OS X 10.3. The shareware Xslimmer does mention Leopard. There are suggestions that application code signing may be an issue with application slimming utilities, although this should not happen, according to Apple documentation on code signing. I am not sure why more Macintosh developers don't trim their Cocoa applications.

If you like, get daring in Terminal sudo find / -xdev -type d -iname \*.lproj -not -iname en\*.lproj -exec rm -fr \{} \; Untested. Don't blame me if it eats something unintended.

Degunk My Macintosh - Applications and Photos

Removal of surplus applications got rid of a gigabyte or two. Duplicated original photos that were also in iPhoto Library was around six gigabyte. iTunes has a lot of music in it for a laptop. That should be my next target.

Total available hard drive space is now 19.76 GB. This is starting to get somewhere. However I wish I knew where that missing 6 GB got to.

Wired on Sci-Fi

Article by Wired regular Clive Thompson on why sci-fi is the last bastion of philosophical writing. Apart from tagging SF with the despised term sci-fi, it is generally friendly in tone. Mentions Cory Doctorow's After the Seige, on copycat societies with anything machines.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Collect iMac in Mackay

I had intended to drive to Mackay to collect my newly repaired iMac on Monday. However Saturday was Australia Day, and Monday the official holiday. I still hate driving, but since Jean declined to drive, had to force myself to do so. Set out around 7:30, and reached Mackay just after the morning traffic jam. Took a while to find parking, although afterwards more convenient spaces opened up. I collected the iMac from service agents Matilda Internet. They confirmed a replacement logic board, due to the video chip soldering starting to fail. Lucky I didn't have to pay Apple's very high part prices. That is the problem with an all in one. You can't replace faulty boards with cheap generic circuits.

While in Mackay, I also visited Harvey Norman electrical, and their computer store. Plus Spotlight. Didn't find anything on interest in any of them, so I was soon on the road home. Stopped for a milkshake at Bloomsbury, and made good time to arrive home about 12:30.

My last stop was in Cannonvale, at the Retravision store, to collect the new stove we had ordered. These are small Euromaid models, two elements on the top, plus a grill or small oven. The oven switch had died on the one Jean had. Stopped us having our second half of the turkey we bought at Xmas.

Dietary Dilemmas

Low fat diets are being pushed, but calorie intake is up. Low fat has little effect if you bulk up on sugar instead. Atkins diets restricts carbohydrates, with the idea that low carbohydrates trigger ketosis, and burning fat takes more energy. See Science News on Dietary Dilemmas by Damaris Christensen

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Low Cost Linux Computers

Everex gPC US$198, running gOS version of Ubuntu 7.10. Wal-mart are said to have problems keeping them in stock.

Mirus Linux PC with Linspire's Freespire 2.0 Ubuntu, from Sears for US$299. However there is a US$100 rebate.

Tiny Shuttle KPC cube, with an Intel Celeron, 512 MB memory, 80 GB hard drive, running Linux. Shuttle say there will also be a bare bones US$99 version.

On the other hand, none of these cheap Linux computers even come with a monitor. However they sure make a start at avoiding paying for a copy of Windows that you didn't want or need.

Aboriginal DRM

Chance observation of reactions of aboriginals to digital information could lead to archives that test for who should view which material.

Flying Rocket Belts

Just when you think the future will never arrive, here comes Thunderbolt Aerosystems jet belts, for everyone who ever wanted to be Buck Rogers. OK, so they cost just under $100,000 each. 75 seconds flight time, with test flights of 37 seconds to date. They foresee up to 35 minutes sustained flight times. Jet belt demonstrations should turn up as event advertising soon.

Messy Office Competition

This I like. A competition for the most messy office or cubical.

Thursday 31 January 2008

Hybrid Cars Rejected

It seems the Australian public have rejected petrol electric hybrid automobiles. Apart from luxury vehicles, the choices in Australia are Toyota Prius and Honda Civic. In 2007 sales were 4228 hybrids. This is 0.7% of the Australian market. Of these, 64.5%, or 2725, were to governments of businesses wanting to project green credentials, and increase of nearly 61% over last year. Private sales were 1503, up 16.3% from 1292 in 2006. The largest selling hybrid, the Toyota Prius, has sold a mere 900,000 units in its entire ten years of production. If this were a regular car, it would have been canned long ago for bad sales.

PDA Comparer

PDA Database is a very nice PDA site, with a database of an exceedingly comprehensive range of PDA style gadgets, phones and so on. They already list around 1100 PDA style gadgets. Their PDA comparer is very helpful for an initial comparison of a handful of PDA devices. I particularly liked their PDA history, although it did not seem to cover devices prior to 1990.