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…

New iMac

As the purchaser of a iMac at the start of the year, I went through the usual doubts and uncertainties about how long my purchase would remain current. Just to recap, I got a 24″ iMac, with the following upgrades: 2GB RAM, 500GB SATA hard disk, 256MB nVidea graphics card. Although the 24″ iMac had only been out for a couple of months, I was aware that the overall design was getting on a bit, and was probably due an update sometime this year.

Yesterday saw that update, and I’m breathing a sigh of relief that there’s nothing too revolutionary about it meaning my current iMac doesn’t seem so obsolete (in reality it isn’t obsolete at all, it’s still a hugely powerful machine for what I do with it!) I’m quite impressed with the way that the 24″ model’s base specs have been upgraded. The processors have a boost, topping out with a 2.8Ghz Core Duo Extreme, whilst the maximum amount of memory is up to 4GB from 3GB. The graphics are ATI across the range rather than the previous ATI low end and nVidea high end choice, and 256MB is standard. Finally, the hard disk sizes are upped, with the max now being 1TB.

The thing I’m most happy with is that the overall styling is similar, albeit with a brushed metal and glass look rather than white plastic. Most importantly as well, the screen resolution hasn’t changed, with the 24″ still being 1920×1200. I’m quite happy that my iMac has a matt screen rather than the now standard glossy screen which to my eyes is not as good for photo work.

I’m also happy that the new models don’t yet have any HD drive, and have stuck with DVD for the time being.

The one thing I’m less happy about is the fact that the cost has decreased quite significantly, with the top end iMac 24″ now coming in at £400 less than I paid for a faster processor and equivalent memory, graphics and disk to the one I specced. Still, overall it could have been worse.

One thing Apple should be slapped for is shipping the top end iMac with 2x 1GB memory chips. If you want to upgrade to 3 or 4GB in the future you are going to have to chuck one or both of those away.

Thoughts on Beryl

I’ve had a pretty hardcore day of getting a design doc done today. I started at 6:30am and went straight through until about 7pm. All day was spent slaving over my Thinkpad, with it’s shiny new Beryl window manager running. I have to say I am extremely impressed by the experience of using it.

I start off taking advantage of an empty office to duck into one of the conference rooms to make sure that my Thinkpad and Linux would play nicely on a projector. Unsurprisingly it wouldn’t and I couldn’t get the Fn-F7 combo to work. After a bit of googling and a check of the internal forums I found a solution involving aticonfig –force-monitor=crt1,lvds

With that sorted and the projector displaying I fired up a presentation and displayed it. I then had an epiphany and realised that for the first time, virtual desktops make sense to me thanks to Beryl. Previously I’ve found having to click on an icon somewhere or remember a keyboard shortcut a little too tiresome, and ended up piling things on one desktop. However with a simple Ctrl-Alt and the push of the mouse I can watch my virtual desktops swish past in an OS X Quartz Extreme cube effect. It is so powerful to use in presentations. For instance I can have the full screen presentation on one desktop whilst a demo is set up and ready to go on another. No longer do I have to Alt-tab or escape out of the presentation to get to the demo, just swish over to another virtual desktop whilst my audience gaze in wonder at the Beryl eye-candy. I’m now even more impatient for OS X Leopard and it’s Spaces virtual desktop concept to arrive, but it doesn’t look quite so funky.

Talking of OS X, the other invaluable part of Beryl which I found myself making extensive use of during the day was the Expose-like ability to see shrunk versions of every open window, then click on the one you want to work with. The way it can show all windows across virtual desktops or just the ones in the desktop you are in is way cool, and so is the automatic (and much faster than normal) flipping over to the desktop hosting the window.

All in all, on an intense days work I’ve been nothing but impressed by RHEL, the IBM Open Client and Beryl. It is certainly a league above Windows XP for being able to get things done productively, and as much as it hurts to say it, it gives OS X a good run for the money as well. It seemed to run fine on my T42p, 2GB RAM and 128MB ATI Mobility FireGL T2 as well.