iPhone 3G first thoughts

  • It wasn’t hard to get one if you were prepared. I pre-ordered early the day the pre orders started and was ok. There was a bloke in front of my in the O2 Blanchardstown store who pre-ordered a 16GB and was only offered an 8GB, despite his protestations about being ‘the first person’ to pre-order.
  • O2 ported over my pre-pay number right there and then. I’m used to this taking days in the UK.
  • Sign up and activation was painless. I think mainly because I had it all done by 10am Dublin time and Ireland is a small country anyway.
  • The device is noticeable heavier and fatter than my 16GB iPod touch, which is not a criticism, just a difference to be expected and gotten used to.
  • The Home button seems to require more of a firm press than the Touch.
  • The multi-touch screen seems like it has been slowed down a bit from the Touch. Presses need to be a bit firmer and scrolling seems slower.
  • Love the volume and silent buttons. LOVE the speaker and not having to find a pair of headphones just to watch a quick video or listen to a song.
  • It makes and receives phone calls.
  • No visual voicemail – now I have one I honestly don’t care. I maybe get 1 voicemail a month and never have to trawl through any others to get to it. I can understand the value for heavy users, but that ain’t me.
  • It sends and receives text messages. I honestly cannot remember the last time I sent or got an MMS – not bothered about that.
  • Wifi with enterprise access at at last. However I haven’t been able to get it to work at work, due to the fact that there is a rogue unprotected adhoc access point somewhere with the SSID I need to use and that’s all the phone will see.
  • I need to get over the mental hurdle of being stingy with using cellular data. So far I’ve used 244K of download. I still get a slight panic when I tap on Weather or Stocks and it just goes off and gets data. So I only (only?) have 1GB per month, but I need to just go with the flow and treat data access as a normality.
  • App Store – immediate downloads: Twitteriffic, the light saber thing, Facebook and Exposure.
  • App Store – there’s lots missing from the Irish store. No games at all, and certain other apps are not there. I WANT SUPER MONKEYBALL!!!
  • The Remote app is teh awsomeness. It may just make me get an Apple TV just to show it off!
  • There’s lots of crud and no way to get through it other than scrolling. More evident on the iPhone interface than iTunes. Let me ignore the app developers producing ebooks or bible stuff please!
  • I’ve not paid a penny for an app yet. I want to hear the wisdom of those who have. I want a good weight of reviews.
  • GPS – well I went outside and it knew where I was, so it works. So does cellular triangulation.
  • Maps – tried to search for ‘Hotel’ when located at home. It gave me three results. IN THE WHOLE OF DUBLIN! I know this isn’t a phone issue, it is a data issue. Come on Irish companies, start advertising yourselves – your market just got a whole lot more mobile.

A little album artwork game

When working at home I invariably end up sitting at my desk working on the Thinkpad whilst my iMac plays music to me or tunes me into BBC Radio 5 (especially PMQs on a Wednesday)

I’ve recently set the iMac to display the iTunes artwork screensaver, and have found myself entranced by it. For those that haven’t seen it, the screensaver shows a mosaic of album covers (40 at a time on my 24″ iMac) and flips one over every couple of seconds to reveal another. My main fixation has been a desire to see a screen full of artwork from what I consider to be good music. Like any music collection, there are a few black sheep in amongst the 830 albums and singles that live in my library. That Simply Red CD seemed like a good idea at the time…

One Hit Wonders

It is quite distracting to sit there and stare at the Gabriel album, willing the screensaver to choose that one to flip over next. The bad ones seem to stay the longest, and Apple plays with your mind by always seeming to make sure there is a bad egg on the screen at all times. It’s not even like I rate my music, how does it know??

A little while ago I reached breaking point and had to just put everything else on hold and wait for that perfect moment:

Good taste

(Large version on flickr)

I can’t say I’m completely happy with it. Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance are dodgy to say the least, whilst The Darkness and Catatonia are both albums I’d probably not want to be seen listening to nowadays.

However, the more interesting game is to try and spot serendipitous arrangements of albums. This is highlighted nicely in the above screenshot by this example:

The Crescent and Ed Harcourt

If defunct mid-ninetines Bristolians The Crescent and erstwhile singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt ever got together to release a gatefold double vinyl album this must surely be the artwork!

Incidentally, you may wonder how you capture a screenshot of a screen saver? Well on OS X it turns out that if you press Cmd-Shift before starting the screen saver by pressing “Test” in the preferences panel, you can then take as many shots of the screen saver in action by keeping Cmd-Shift held down and pressing 3 for each shot. Nice. And yes, it did mean that I kept my fingers down on those buttons for about 20 minutes in the production of this blog post…

Dear Apple

Well you kind of let me down with the Macbook Air. 1 USB port? No replaceable battery? Lack of the syncing stuff I hoped for. And the price…

However, I’ll let you off since you gave me this:

iPod touch update

£12.99 well spent. The touch was already eminently useable for most of my browsing and media needs, now it’s even more so.

My Macworld predictions

Everybody else in the tech universe seems to be making predictions about what Steve Jobs is going to come up with today, so here’s mine:

  • He will announce the new Macbook Air, as many have reported is likely.
  • Also as widely discussed it will be thin, very thin, and likely have nothing more in terms of ports than a couple of USB and power. Network? Wireless only. Peripherals? USB and Bluetooth, including things like headphones. No external monitor capability.
  • Explaining away the lack of Firewire, Jobs will announce that Apple will put their support behind USB3.0 and Wireless USB from now on with Firewire still supported for legacy reasons on desktop, Macbook and Macbook Pro hardware. Macbook Air probably won’t have enough disk for video editing anyway…
  • Disk will be solid state.
  • Will support two essential use-cases – standalone laptop machine in which case you will likely need the USB optical drive accessory, or much more interestingly it will be able to sync up to a host machine e.g. iMac. iTunes on the Air will sync to a host iTunes in much the same way as Apple TV does.
  • iTunes 8.0 will support DVD ripping and iTunes movie rentals. You can rip your DVDs to your host Mac and sync them to the Air or via USB optical drive directly. Movie rentals are a no brainer.
  • The syncing mechanism will be extended to include your home directory, settings etc, allowing your Air to be a truly portable mini-copy of your desktop Mac back home.
  • Naturally remote syncing will be supported via a combination of .Mac and Back To My Mac.
  • Time Machine will be updated so that it knows not to backup synced content on an Air that is already being backed up on a host Mac. That is if you are using the host Mac as the Time Machine destination.
  • It won’t have any sort of multi-touch interface, just keyboard and trackpad.
  • It will be powerful enough to run stuff like Aperture or Lightroom for photo editing with comfort, and the screen will be widescreen, probably not OLED yet.

Ok, I confess, this isn’t so much a prediction as a wish list. Whilst I love my iMac to pieces I would like to be able to take it on the road sometimes, especially when away on trips and I want to do some photo editing. I don’t need things like optical drives, external monitor ports or at a push a wired network connection. What I do need however is to not feel like I would have to maintain data between two machines. This is why I’ve never bought a companion Macbook for instance. Currently you either go mobile with a Macbook/Pro and compromise on disk and screen real-estate, or you stay deskbound with an iMac/Mini/Mac Pro. The Air would seem to fill the gap between the two allowing desktop Mac owners to take their data on the road without feeling like they have a whole management problem with two machines.

I know I’d buy one like a shot…

Sorting out my backup strategy

Historically I’ve been pretty poor at keeping backups of my data. Recently however I’ve become aware of the need to be more vigilant in this area. Touch wood I have never suffered a disk failure on any computer I’ve owned, so I reckon I’m overdue one. The fact that my iMac disk now contains the results of months spent ripping my CD collection as well as a growing library of photographs it is time to take it seriously.

For the past few months I’ve been using the excellent SuperDuper! to perform backups of the iMac. However although the software is good I didn’t set up a scheduled backup so it relied on me to remember to run it regularly. Secondly the backup was performed to a Lacie 500GB Big Disk Extreme. Whilst this is an excellent external disk and runs very fast over Firewire 800, it is actually two 250GB disks arranged in a RAID 0 configuration. RAID 0 means that the two disks combine together and data is striped over them. This makes read and write access faster than a single disk, but has a big potential problem when the disk is used for backup, namely that if one disk fails then you lose all your data. Effectively you are doubling your risk of a hardware failure. Not ideal.

With the arrival of OS X 10.5 Leopard and the built in Time Machine backup I’ve decided to sort out my backup solution in a proper fashion. Therefore I’ve just ordered one of these beauties:

Lacie 2big Triple

The Lacie 2big Triple is a 1TB triple interface (USB2, Firewire 400 and Firewire 800) drive. Like the extreme it actually contains two 500GB drives that make up the total capacity. The difference however is that this one supports RAID 1 as well. RAID 1 puts the disks in mirror mode, meaning that they both contain a copy of the same data. Thus, if one disk fails the other one is still there to serve your data. What’s more the drives are hot-swappable so you can replace the failed one and it will spin the new one up and copy everything onto it to bring it in line. In fact the disks can work in four modes: the aforementioned RAID 0 and RAID 1, plus JBOD which allows both disks to act as separate volumes, and Big which just creates a single volume without RAID support.

A couple of years ago consumer level (read affordable) hot-swappable RAID arrays were unheard of, so I’m really looking forward to throwing Time Machine at this beast. Unfortunately for the time being I’ll probably have to leave my Adobe Lightroom catalog out of the backup until the Leopard compatible fixes are available later this month. In the meantime I’ll back all my photos up to the old Lacie.

Of course, any comprehensive backup strategy will include offsite storage, afterall if the flat burns down or we get broken into then I could lose the iMac and the backed up data. I’m not yet sure what the best way to go with offsite is. Either buy a cheaper 500GB external disk and run a SuperDuper backup onto it every now and then and take it into the office to store, or try online storage with something like Amazon S3 or even .Mac. The latter is probably more reliable as I can script it to happen without needing to remember to bring a disk home every so often. I need to work out if it is cost effective for the 300GB or so of data which I need to have backed up.

Leopard

Like many, I found myself purchasing Apple OS X 10.5 Leopard on launch day. There are no official Apple Stores in Ireland, but a variety of O2 Experience Stores and 3G shops were stocking it. I found myself at the Blanchardstown O2 store to pick up my reserved copy. There was me and one other person, who was rather more excited than I was it has to be said.

I had some time to kill before the 6pm launch, so ended up buying something else, but more on that in another post…

My 24″ iMac is around nine months old now, and has been regularly backed up using SuperDuper. Given that, I decided to do a wipe and clean install, making a new backup of my Tiger install first. The install process itself was painless, with my only complaint being that I didn’t notice the skip button on the DVD media test portion until too late. That would have shaved about 20 minutes off the install time.

After configuring the OS after install (including setting up an account) I ran the migration wizard and pointed it at my backup. I chose to copy over accounts and data, but not applications, thinking that I would install those separately and thus cut down some of the cruft the machine had accumulated. The copy over took an hour and a half or so for over 200GB of data from my external Firewire 800 drive.

Unfortunately it seems that the migration assistant always copies over the System files, so a lot of application-specific stuff in /System/Library and under my home directory got copied over. This pretty much defeated the purpose of trying to do a clean install and re-install apps, but wasn’t a big hassle to clean up.

The second migration assistant gotcha was that it wasn’t happy about copying over account data where the “from” and ‘to” account had the same name. This wasn’t a problem for me as I just asked it to create a new account for the migrated data (a situation where being happily known as both Adrian and Aidy comes in handy!) With some forethought, the correct thing to do is to create a temporary account when you install Leopard which you can then delete once running the migration assistant.

Given that I spend the majority of time in front of a Windows or Linux OS at work, my Mac is a haven of usability at home. As such I don’t consider myself to be an OS X power user and I find myself being much less critical of some of the new Leopard features than others. I like the new dock. Yes the way that the stack icons work isn’t very intelligent. Translucent menu bar? Not a problem for me. I keep a fairly uniform background image anyway for when I’m doing Photoshop work as I find complex ones get distracting with the way the floating toolbars appear in Elements. Spaces is a very cool virtual desktop implementation. The only thing I’d like is to be able to set different background images so my photo editing space could be completely clean. Coverflow in Finder and quick look are very useful. I’ve not made use of Time Machine yet as I’m waiting to buy a Raid 1 enabled Firewire 800 external drive to use it with rather than the Raid 0 one I currently use as a (rather suicidal) backup disc. Given my iMac is desk-bound I’m not at all concerned about the lack of backup to Airport Extreme disks.

One thing I am looking forward to making more use of is iChat. My mother has just bought a new Macbook and therefore iChat will replace Skype as our primary communication method. Leopard to Leopard screen sharing will be a boon for helping her our remotely as well.

All said, I’m very happy with Leopard. Yes I can understand some of the criticism it has drawn with regard to some of the technical and UI design choices Apple have made. However, all I can say is that it is an improvement over Tiger, and it sure as hell beats Windows XP, Vista or any flavour of Linux I’ve used recently. I long for the day when I can use it full time at work. I regularly tell our PC-using UI designer that he should have requested a Mac just so I could use it instead 😉 Maybe I should just take the iMac in…

Thoughts on the new Apple keyboard

Apple Keyboard

Lana went all the way to the Southampton Apple Store at the weekend, just to buy me the newly released Apple keyboard. That’s why I’m marrying her. The fact she was also going there for her hen party is just mere coincidence 😉

The keyboard is one aspect of Apple hardware I’ve never been entirely happy with. I’ve owned the black keyed version which came with the G4 PowerMac range and both the wired and wireless versions of the most recent design. In all cases I’ve struggled with the rather heavy nature of the key action, and also the way they seemed to be too closely packed together for my hands. Hence I was immediately interested in the new keyboard when it was surfaced on Engadget, and then announced last week.

The concept of putting a laptop style keyboard into a standalone form-factor is genius, and the thing really is unbelievably thin, but at the same time very sturdy. When you put it side-by-side with the old keyboard it makes the old one look positively obese. It’s truly a triumph of design. However, with any keyboard, the proof is in the typing. I must admit that I’d always looked at the keyboard style of the current Macbook range with some skepticism (and hadn’t really spent any time using one) compared to the more traditional laptop keyboard design of the MBP and the Thinkpads I’m used to using at work. Despite my earlier comment, the spacing between the keys just didn’t look natural. However I pleased to say that it works like a charm and my typing on the new keyboard is smooth and quick. There is a satisfying feel and response to the keys, and you certainly don’t get the feeling that you have to press them down hard like I did with the old style Apple keyboard.

I went for the wired version for the extra keys (most notably a numeric pad) and simply because I have no need to go wireless. Aesthetically, I have to say that the new silver and white design, whilst probably made to look good with the new iMac, works very well with the older one with the silver of the iMac base and white of the main unit matching the base and keys of the iMac perfectly. Check for yourself:

Apple Keboard with iMac

Apple have released a software update for OS X 10.4.10 (the minimum supported level for the keyboard) which adds support for some of the new buttons for Expose and Dashboard. Some people have complained that some functions have moved F-keys, but I don’t find this to be an issue. I’m also particularly please that the Apple key has been officially labelled as “Cmd” as I always struggled with remembering that Command=Apple.

Overall, I’m very impressed. I’m seriously considering buying a couple to use in work…

Update-a-thon

Nearly a month after moving into our new flat, Eircom have finally managed to not only provide us with a phone line, but also with broadband. This has given me the opportunity to do a bit of housekeeping on the various gadgets and gizmos which have been starved of an internet connection over the past couple of months.

First off was the iMac which got OS X 10.4.10 and a few other updates automatically installed. Lana’s iBook also received the Apple update treatment. The iMac, and therefore my iTunes library has been offline since before iTunes Plus songs were released so I also popped onto iTunes Music Store to download 158 non-DRM’d tracks from EMI to update my library. Finally, I updated Adobe Lightroom up to 1.1 and look forward to playing with the new features.

Next to receive the automatic update treatment was the XBox 360. There was an auto update for the dashboard to provide support for the forthcoming wireless guitar controllers for hotly anticipated Rock Band game. Forza 2 also updated when I fired that up and went online with it for the first time.

Next was the Linksys NSLU2 NAS device. This has been a little neglected over the past six months or so, sitting happily on the network serving up music to the XBox via uPnP using TwonkyVision MediaServer. It received a firmware update to the latest version of Unslung, and also a new version of TwonkyMedia, taking it up to the current 4.4 release. The net effect of this is that it can now stream video to the XBox as well, including high def content.

Finally, since I no longer use my Nokia N80 on Orange UK, and got it unlocked before moving over to Dublin I decided to update it’s firmware to turn it into an N80 Internet Edition. Orange don’t allow this firmware upgrade by default, so the Nokia Software Updater does not offer it. The solution is simply to use a bit of software to change the product number on the device (instructions here). This proved to be simple and easy. One immediate benefit is that I can now use the phone to make VOIP calls over my wireless network, including Skype calls using http://www.fring.com/. I’ve yet to make a Skype call, but am intrigued to find out how it performs when I phone my folks up this weekend.