Why?

Why don’t some people watch where they are going and make an effort to get out of the way?

Why do some people need to park right outside the entrance door to our apartment block when there are free parking spaces 10 yards away?

Why do people see the need to go the wrong way down a 1-way aisle outside the shopping centre just to get to a car parking spot 20 yards closer to the shops?

Why when the fire alarm goes off at 2am and indicates that a heat sensor in the underground car park is registering 62C am I the only person out of about a dozen who thinks it is sensible to perform a visual check rather than just turning off the alarm and going back to bed? At least the other eleven actually got out of bed I suppose.

Why do people who serve me always seem to need me to say things twice?

Why does the minimum possible standard seem to be the one that is delivered?

And finally…

Why have these things started to get to me all of a sudden?

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.

Blog updated

I’ve just updated this blog to WordPress 2.3.1, which was as painless as it always is. I took the opportunity to freshen up the plugins I use as well. There shouldn’t be any noticeable difference, however I have picked up the latest version of the excellent Share This plugin. You will see the share this icon under each post and this is the easiest way to publish any of my entries to Facebook, delicious, digg, stumbleupon or numerous other places.

My new desk

We have just had a big reorganization of the software lab here in Dublin. As a result, my team is co-located in the same area for the first time since I’ve been here (just over five months.) For some they are enjoying the first permanent desk they’ve ever had. For me this is desk number three during my time here. This is it:

My desk

For comparison purposes, here is my old desk in the Hursley lab:

My desk

iPod Touch

I’ve owned a number of MP3/digital music players, but up until recently only one of them was an iPod. The first two of note were versions of the original Creative Jukebox – the silver and blue ones that came in a form factor not dissimilar to an overweight portable CD player. The battery like was as woeful as the interface, and uploading songs using USB 1.0 was not fun.

In 2003 I succumbed and purchased a 15GB 3G iPod – the one pre-clickwheel with the touch sensitive row of buttons under the monochrome display. The size was sufficient at the time, even though my digital music collection was more than 15GB even at that time. I never found that not being able to carry around every single track I own limiting. In fact it was refreshing to have to consider what to put on the device.

The 3G iPod served me well. So well that I felt no need to ever upgrade it. I didn’t need a colour screen, and whilst video and photo display was enticing, viewing them on a tiny screen wasn’t. I swore that I wouldn’t upgrade until it either broke (which it hasn’t, nor has the battery diminished enough to warrant replacement either) or Apple produced a true video capable iPod, by which I mean one with a screen you could actually contemplate watching on a plane.

The iPod Touch fulfills my criteria, and so I’ve bought one. The 16GB model give me more space than I’ve had before (so no problem there. I’m even happy to sacrifice music space for video space) and has the killer advantage of wifi and web browsing. It is pretty much the perfect device for me. I’ll address the major features in turn.

iPod Touch 2

At last the effort I put in earlier this year to re-rip, encode and provide album art for all my music pays off. Coverflow on the touch is so much better for choosing what I want to play than looking at a monochrome list of albums or artists. For one thing I can now see the artist and album information at the same time. The killer though is being able to see the artwork. It is so much more like flicking through my CD collection. Something I can no longer do as it is all boxed up and in storage.

One entirely understandable but slightly annoying thing (certainly in comparison to the iPhone) is the lack of an external speaker (bar a simple one for the alarm and a couple of other things) A number of times I’ve found myself showing off the device only to say “of course you have to have the earphones in to hear the audio for this video” It is an iPod at the end of the day though and really meant for personal consumption.

If Coverflow is the eye-candy, then it’s made all the more better by the multi-touch interface. Using this is simple and effective. The damping effects when you scroll at different velocities are awesome.

Video playback. Not made much use of this yet, save for the Make Love Not Warcraft episode of South Park which was immediately downloaded from iTMS. Playback is good though. The YouTube stuff I’ve found flaky. Some work fine, some seem to hang the application (from which the touch recovers quite well after a short delay.)

Wifi and web browsing. The killer factor, and the reason I already love my touch. I’ve had mobile wifi in the form of my Nokia N80 for 18 months now, and whilst viewing HTML based web sites is possible, it is not a pleasant experience and I found myself heading to WAP sites in preference. Safari on the iPod Touch however is awesome. It renders pages faithfully and quickly, the landscape view is perfect and the zoom function easy to use and effective. Text input is excellent (most notably when in landscape mode) and little things like adding previous and next buttons to the keyboard popup to save you having to press to select individual fields on a form make it truly usable. One of the annoying things about the N80 was filling in forms. Something you typically have to do any time you join a public wifi network, even if it is just a userid and password. With the touch it is simple and quick. I need go no further to prove that the touch is a capable and usable web browsing device than to say that a friend managed to do the whole of the Facebook movie compatibility test application, in the full Facebook web UI not the cut-down iPhone/Touch optimized version, whilst connected to a public wifi point in the pub last Saturday night.

Yes, the lack of flash is an annoyance, but not a big one.

Lack of mail app? So what, web-based mail is perfectly usable (at least mine is)

iPod Touch 1

As for the lack of 3rd party application support. Well I did Jailbreak my touch, as you can see from the photo above. To be honest however I’ve not found any compelling additional applications for it. Yes I could find and install the mail app if I wanted to, but I don’t. When I show the device to people I end up demonstrating the hacked nature by running a terminal and typing ‘ls’ To be honest, so what if I can now ssh into my touch, or run a VNC client on it (honestly, why would you want to?) I’ll be doing a restore and upgrade if a new firmware comes out rather than keeping it hacked. Things may be different once the official SDK comes out I feel.

Battery life is superb. I charged it up on Thursday night before a day of work, followed by a flight over to the UK for the weekend. Music playback during work, the flights, lots of showing off and a good couple of hours of wifi usage and browsing over the course of the weekend failed to use the full charge up by the time I got back on Sunday evening. That’s good enough for me.

Annoyances? Well it seems to have a problem with the correct display of some album art. I’ve seen various thread on this and it seems to be a problem with the way iTunes stores album art and corruption of the data. Everything is displayed fine in iTunes, but some albums get the wrong art when transferred over to the iPod. I’m still searching for a resolution that doesn’t involve anything too drastic like resyncing the entire device.

Why didn’t I wait for the iPhone. A number of reasons. Firstly there’s no news on when it will appear in Ireland. I am not interested in getting a hacked one, the touch is much thinner and finally because I don’t believe in uber-converged devices. The battery life suffers and it tends to become a jack of all trades and master of none.

So in summary, I couldn’t be happier with my iPod touch!

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…