Adobe Lightroom preorder

As Andy has blogged, Adobe Lightroom 1.0 is now available for pre-order. As a big user of the beta I’m definitely going to get it, so I popped along to the Adobe online store. The UK promo price including VAT is £146.88. For this they ship you a box, CD and manual. However, there is also a download option via which you can simply download the software on purchase (or release day I guess) This allows you to re-download should you have to. Nice.

The thing I find baffling though is that the cost of the download option is £151.25. Why more expensive?

Update: Taking the boxed version through to checkout adds a shipping fee of £5.11 making a total of £152.88 including VAT. So for saving them any variable costs incurred in sending you a box you save the princely sum of £1.63

Update 2: After order completion it lists the estimated shipment date as 20th February.

24″ iMac – initial random thoughts

24

Wow! Some random thoughts before I collate a more considered post tonight:

  • It comes in a very big box.
  • It is quite disconcerting when the invoice stuck to said box is made out to some guy in France…
  • … though he seems to have gone for the 3GB…
  • … but only the 128MB graphics card.
  • Phew, it is actually mine.
  • Why is Apple packaging so, well, cool.
  • Blimey it’s big.
  • But very, very nice.
  • Lots of system updates to download.
  • Firmware update. Please don’t go wrong…
  • …Phew.
  • 1920×1200 rocks.
  • Wires from the keyboard and mouse are annoying me already.
  • Very easy to transfer stuff over from the iBook via firewire.
  • Did I say it was big?
  • Play with FrontRow. Remote is cool.
  • 1080p trailer of 300 at native res, impressive.
  • Installed Lightroom. Wow, this is what I bought it for!

Lightroom comparison

  • SecondLife and Google Earth are sweet. Might actually tempt me to spend a decent amount of time in SL now.
  • Photoshop Elements runs quick, even under Rosetta.
  • CD drive is very quiet.
  • Very, very happy.

Anticipation

29 Jan 2007 07:00 Southampton Out For Delivery
29 Jan 2007 05:48 Southampton Import Received
27 Jan 2007 22:16 Northampton Hub Consignment Received At Transit Point
26 Jan 2007 17:09 Arnhem Hub Consignment Received At Transit Point
26 Jan 2007 17:09 Arnhem Hub Consignment Passed Through Transit Point
23 Jan 2007 11:42 Shanghai Consignment Received At Transit Point
23 Jan 2007 09:35 Shanghai Consignment Picked Up

Belkin Wifi Phone for Skype review

I’ve been keeping a close eye on the market for a computer-less Skype phone over the past six months or so. Both Lana and my family have taken to Skype as the easiest and cheapest way to keep in touch with each other. With familial outposts in both Ireland and Spain at the moment it works out quite well. The problem I have with Skype is that you are chained to a computer when using it. There’s no computer always on in our flat, and even if there was, the currently available cordless USB handsets only tend to work with PCs.

As such, I was excited to read about the Netgear SPH101 Wireless Skype phone midway through last year. However, once it made it over to the UK it came in at an expensive £160 or so. A number of other manufacturers have come up with similar devices and a couple of weeks ago, I picked up the Belkin Wifi Phone for Skype from PC World for £99.

The phone itself is a candy-bar design, much like a normal mobile phone. However the plastics are decidedly cheap feeling and the handset is quite light. The display is colour, but low resolution. Overall it has obviously been designed to be inexpensive and predominantly house bound. The keypad contains the usual numerical keypad (for SkypeOut use) as well as a joystick and two soft keys. In use the keys are a bit of a hit-and-miss affair and it sometimes takes a couple of presses for them to produce a result. There are also volume up/down keys on the left side of the phone. To finish off a description of the externals, the handset comes with a charger which plugs into a mini-usb port on the bottom of the phone, and a small port to plug in a hands free earpiece (not supplied.) The battery is removable and charges in about three hours first time around. Battery life seems to be reasonable, with it lasting a couple of days on standby, though calls do run it down fairly quickly, with maybe 2 hours of call time from a full battery.

As the name suggests, the phone connects to your wireless network and in this respect it can handle 802.11b/g networks and has a good level of support for WEP and WPA/WPA2 PSK security. The first time you turn it on it presents you with a list of networks and once you select the one to connect to you can enter the necessary WEP key or WPA pass-phrase. Once configured you can tell the phone to auto-connect to that network. After connection you can either connect to Skype using an existing account, or create a new one. At this point it is worth introducing the Skype client which comes pre-loaded on the phone. In many ways it acts in a very similar way to the one you are probably used to using on a PC/Mac. However it is a lot more basic, even compared to the Skype for mobile client. For instance, there is no support for viewing user’s pictures, instant messaging and of course, video. What is there however is the basic functionality you’ll need for making and receiving calls, including support for SkypeOut, SkypeIn and voicemail. However if you want to top up your account credit you’ll need to log onto the Skype web site.

Once signed in you can view your contacts and make a call simply by selecting one and pressing the green call key. On the Skype-Skype calls we’ve made so far call quality has been excellent, on a par with talking on a normal land phone. SkypeOut is acceptable quality, but not as clear. We’ve experienced call drops a few times, but that could be down to problems with our wireless or even on the other end. The phone makes the usual Skype noise when your contacts come and go. One thing the client does appear to lack is support for online awareness. That is it doesn’t appear to support the option to always show your Skype status which means things like Skype Buttons may not work properly. It does of course display your online status to your contacts. The client is also upgradable via download, though none has so far been made available.

One feature which Belkin promote is the ability to take the phone out and about and connect to public access points. However the phone does not have a web browser, so any access point must be truly open and not require browser based authentication. In the UK Belkin have done a deal with popular wireless provider The Cloud via their Ultra Talk package. However, this requires subscription at a cost of £6.99 per month. I don’t envisage that our one will be leaving the confines of the flat.

One feature which would be nice would be to support multiple Skype accounts logged in simultaneously. Prior to obtaining the phone both Lana and I had separate Skype accounts, but in order for this to be our only always on Skype device we had to create a new one for both of us and distribute it to our contacts. The option to have both original accounts logged in with a different ring tone would be fantastic, but I have no idea how practical this would be.

In summary, I’ve been impressed by the handset so far in terms of its ability to perform as an always on Skype to Skype device which doesn’t require you to be tethered to a computer or even have one on. The functionality provided is pretty good and easy to use.

One thing I’d be interested to try as well would be a combined DECT landline handset and on-phone Skype unit. The RTX Dualphone 3088 which recently launched provides this capability and looks interesting.

The ins and outs of Apple shipment and order tracking

I’ve ordered numerous items from Apple over the years, including two iPods an iBook and now the iMac. As such, and like a lot of other Apple customers, I’ve become quite au-fait with their shipment procedures. In fact, it seems Apple customers are really quite anal when it comes to tracking where their precious delivery is!

When you view any hardware product on the Apple Store, it gives an estimated “ready to ship” date. If this is “within 24 hours” that normally means the product is in stock at a distribution point and you are ordering a standard configuration. If you are customising a product then your order becomes a BTO/CTO (Build-to-order / customize-to-order) order with a typical ready to ship date of 2-3 days. This will be fulfilled from the factory in most cases (iPod engraving being an exception – that is done at the distribution point) Of course, the ready to ship date is the date it is, er, ready to ship from the distribution point or factory, not the date you can expect to receive your shiny new purchase. If you are especially keen to get hold of a standard config, you might be better off heading down to your local reseller (John Lewis are best if you happen to be in the UK)

Once you’ve ordered, your order confirmation will give the RTS date, and an estimated delivery date. You will also have an order number typically beginning with W80 or W81. This is where the fun begins. If your order is CTO hardware then it is most likely going to be built in a factory in China. From there it is possible that it may be shipped directly by courier. You’ll know if this is happening as the shipping method on your order status page will be “Fast Ship (EMEA)” This means that a courier (TNT or UPS in the UK at least) will handle the delivery from factory to your door. Once your item is shipped you’ll receive a dispatch email from Apple which will contain a ten digit delivery reference number beginning with 80.

What happens now is up to the delivery method. If it is a single item through Fast Ship deliver then you are in luck. You should be able to use the delivery reference number to do a track by reference on the courier web site (try both TNT and UPS) though you will have to wait for the courier system to pick up the details after you receive the order shipped email.

Alternatively, if you’ve ordered more than one item, then congratulations, you’ve now entered the world of the fabled distribution centre. In Europe, this is the TNT European Distribution Centre (EDC) located in The Netherlands. No doubt it is surrounded by lovely windmills and tulip fields. It is here that all your items meet up and get packaged together (or merge in transit if you like) for a single delivery to your door. Factory sourced items are shipped here by a company called Kuehne + Nagel. Going through the EDC tends to add time to your order delivery, so think twice before you add that extra piece of software to your hardware order!

So, the net result is that there are various possible ways in which goods ordered from the Apple store might get to your door, so it would be nice to have a single point at which everything could be tracked, right? Well, unfortunately the Apple Store tracking system is not the best. However, help is at hand thanks to a very nice man called Thomas, and his Appletrack site. This collates information from K+N right down to the nitty details such as when your package picked up, booked on a flight, to when it gets handed over to a courier. It also has a helpful forum which contains more information that this post ever could. It is also a fun read to see people fretting about the fate of the plane their new Mac is on as tracking shows it being in the air for 48 hours!

Not that I’ll be laughing if the iMac doesn’t turn up. Now where’s my order reference number…

Useful backup trick for iTunes

I have somewhere in the region of 500 albums in my iTunes library, the vast majority of which are rips from physical CDs. However I tend only to buy music from the iTunes Music Store nowadays and as such make sure I back those tracks up regularly.

iTunes itself offers this facility by an option on the Back up to disc command to back up only purchased music to optical media, however I back up to a NAS device so this doesn’t work for me.

So, the rather neat and geeky method I use is to drop down into Terminal and do the following:

iBook:~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music aspender$ find . -name *.m4p | cpio -pdmv /Volumes/music/backup

This pipes the list of m4p files found in my iTunes library (.m4p being the file suffix used by the DRM protected AAC files you get from iTMS) to the cpio command which archives them whilst preserving the directory structure. The inclusion of the -p option performs a copy-pass function which un-archives the files into the target directory. Alternatively you could omit this and keep a single cpio archive file around.

Easy access to the powerful Unix underpinnings of OS X is one of the reasons I love Macs.

As for the rest of the library, well I’m planning a major exercise to re-rip all my CDs into a lossless format for future proofing, then do conversion into MP3 so I’m not bothered about backing them up for the time being. More on that later though.

Apple Mac purchasing decisions

Whilst I’ve been busy shooting over 3000 frames with my Canon 400D, I’ve been severely hampered in the post-processing of them due to the lack of a suitable computer. Not any more… Gulp.

Whilst I work in computer software, I’ve never really been much of a hardware geek. The thought of building my own PC doesn’t interest me at all, also I don’t get the whole constant upgrade thing, so prefer to have a machine which will last a long time. As such I made an old 486 DX2 50Mhz last me all through university and well beyond. Thankfully of course IBM gave me a succession of Thinkpad laptops over the years, so my need for a desktop machine of my own was minimal.

About four years ago I got the urge to get a Mac, and bought a used PowerMac G4 from eBay. I fell in love with it and have been a Mac fan ever since. However we sold it on 18 months ago to fund a 12″ iBook G4 for Lana to use on her night shifts. All this was fine as I could happily surf the web on my Thinkpad and use the iBook for iTunes and iPhoto occasionally.

All this changed when the DSLR came along and I suddenly found myself wanting to spend more and more time in front of the iBook using Adobe Lightroom and more recently Photoshop Elements. Using the Thinkpad would be possible (IBM are good like that generally) but not an ideal option given the limited disk space I have spare. Thus I started to hanker after a new machine. The only question is what it would be? The certainties were that it would be a Mac, and also that it would be new and would have to last. That combination provided a number of options:

  • Mac Mini and a display
  • iMac
  • Macbook
  • Macbook Pro

All of these would be within my budget. Unfortunately the Mac Pros are too expensive once you factor in the need for a display. Technically my priorities were a large crisp display, as much RAM as possible and large but more importantly fast disk.

The Mac Mini, although small and silent suffers from only having a Core Duo processor and 2.5″5,400 rpm disk of up to 80GB. It can take 2GB of RAM but has onboard graphics which share system memory. Twinned with a 20″ or 23″ Apple Cinema Display I feel it would run out of steam quite quickly and the disk would instantly be filled with my current iTunes library and photo archive.

The iMac is a much more interesting proposition. The sleek all-in-one form factor certainly has aesthetic appeal and the displays are excellent. The Intel Core 2 Duo processor provides enough power and RAM is up to 3GB. Disk-wise they use 3.5″ SATA drives that spin at 7,400 rpm up to 750GB in size.

The two laptops are of course a compromise between portability and performance. With one iBook already in the house I wasn’t keen on the 13.3″ widescreen display of the MacBook as it wouldn’t offer any significant difference to the 12″ iBook, which is pretty cramped when editing photos. That left the MacBook Pros of which the 15″ provided an adequate 1440 x 900 resolution. However, common to both the laptops was the relatively slow 5,400 rpm drives (or even 4,200 rpm if you want 200GB in a MacBook Pro) The portability of a laptop is compromised if you need to start adding external storage via firewire, and in any case I didn’t see portability as a key requirement. After all there are already two laptops in the household.

So, the iMac it was. The only decision was which one? It came down to the 20″ or the amazing 24″ model (you can see where this is going…) Both were within budget, so the decision was really about do we have space for the beautiful, but really rather big 24″ model? There are some technical advantages to the larger version as well. It has upgraded graphics, Firewire 800 (though of debatable use unless you are planning to implement RAID 1 or 5) and the screen itself is different in that it has two backlights leading to increased brightness (some say too bright.) After playing around with both in John Lewis (including uploading my own photo onto them using the Bluetooth on my Nokia N80) I couldn’t get past the beauty of the 24″ screen. With a massive 1920 x 1200 resolution it can handle 1080p video which whilst not so important now, may well be in a couple of years. The only thing holding me back was the thought that the 20″ one plus an extra 20″ Apple Cinema Display would work out about the same (well, a bit more.) Now of course, dual monitors are very useful for photo work, but we don’t really have the space for such a luxury.

So, tonight I placed an order with Apple for the following:

  • iMac 24″ with 2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 2 GB 667 DDR2 SDRAM (2 x 1GB)
  • NVIDEA GeForce 7600GT with 256MB SDRAM
  • 500GB SATA 7,400rpm Hard Disk
  • 8x double layer SuperDrive (DVD+R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)

As I said at the top, Gulp! The only things I didn’t max out on the options were the RAM and the Hard Disk. The RAM can go up to 3GB, but the option was too expensive and I’ll wait for the price of the 2GB sticks to drop. I could have ordered a 750GB Hard Disk, but again the cost was quite high and extra external storage can always be added. Some of the options, namely the processor upgrade (from the standard 2.16 GHz) and the graphics card (from 7300GT with 128MB) are probably not going to be necessary for the use I have in mind (I’m not a PC gamer at all) but the iMac is not a user-upgradable machine (memory aside) so I might as well max them out whilst I can. After all, this machine is going to have to last a long, long time!

So now all that is left is to anticipate the delivery sometime around the end of the month. That, and to remove ThinkSecret and MacRumors from my feed reader so I don’t hear about the inevitable iMac upgrade that will now happen! I could have waited a couple of months to get OSX Leopard as standard, but I’m impatient and anyway, that will provide more fun later on!

I’m LinkedIn

I’ve finally got around to adding myself to LinkedIn. Some of you might have seen a connection request from me. I’m already suprised by how many people I know are on there, I’ve obviously been missing out on this for a while. If you read this and you know me, please feel free to connect to me. Here’s my profile, or you can click the button in my new Funky Buttons section on the right hand side 😉

Yahoo Labs WorldExplorer mashup

The O’Reilly Radar have discussed the new World Explorer mash-up created by the folks at Yahoo’s Berkely research lab. It takes publicly geotagged photos from flickr and combines them with Yahoo Maps to create a mash-up from which you can view photos associated with a particular surrounding. It has some algorithm to display tags relevant to a particular area. What’s more, there is also a night option which will only show tagged photos taken at night to give you a different perspective.

You can embed the maps into web pages, blogs etc. via a nifty little flash app generator called Badger. Unfortunately, WordPress.com doesn’t seem to be happy with the embedded object HTML so I guess we will have to wait for them to do a similar thing as they’ve done for YouTube and Google videos, hint, hint 😉

The underlying technology from Yahoo is called TagMaps, and it supports APIs to allow you to create your own tag maps from data you provide via a REST interface.  I’ve been playing with Google Maps and its APIs quite a bit over the last few months, but I’m getting more and more impressed with the functionality of the Yahoo stuff and am keen to have a play.

1and1 email problems

I’ve been a customer of 1&1 for a few years now on their Instant Mail package which provides five mailboxes (POP3 or IMAP) as well as parking of my two domains. It also supports up to 150 email aliases, web based email access and good spam and anti-virus facilities.

The main reason for using them was the fact that they allow you not to have a catch-all facility for domain based email. A few years ago a spammer blitzed my domain name with <everything>@thespenders.co.uk leading to hundreds of thousands of emails ending up in my mailbox leading to a very unhappy ISP. They were unable to suggest a suitable solution so I moved to 1&1 and have been happy ever since.

However, as The Register have reported, 1&1 have been experiencing various problems with their email service this week. The problems first surfaced for me after Thunderbird asked me for my (stored) password for my IMAP mailbox. A trip to the web mail interface failed, as did logging onto the control panel for account management. Intermittently things came back, only to disappear again. There still appear to be problems at the moment.

The most disappointing aspect however is the lack of information coming from 1&1 on the matter. Obviously there wouldn’t be much use in sending an email, though actually the email address my account is registered with is one from my ISP, not one they manage, for that exact reason. I’ve searched but have been unable to find any information about the outage/problem on their web site, either linked off the home page or from the control panel. A system status page wouldn’t go amiss. I didn’t try phoning them as it was obvious they had problems and there were informational posts around from plenty of people who had stuck on hold to get through.

The outage did make me think about whether I should move to another provider, but as the first problem in a couple of years I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. However I’ll definitely be suggesting some improved notification mechanisms for future problems. Hopefully they will be redundant though!