Putting my iMac up on eBay

If you are maybe looking for a good value, well specced and excellent condition second hand desktop Mac, and you are in Ireland or the UK, then my 2.33Ghz, 3GB, 500GB HD 24″ iMac is up for auction on eBay

The plan is to replace it with a personal Macbook Pro as and when the next update for them comes along (hoping for Quad Core and maybe Bluray to come along) In the meantime all of my media/RAW images etc are stuck onto external drives and my work Macbook Pro will suffice for running my iTunes library and the odd bit of photo editing.

Given it is likely that the work one won’t get upgraded for at least two years (it is 18 months old) I’ll probably end up handing it back for somebody else to have when I get my own!

Plantronics C70 DECT headset mini-review

I work from home quite often, and also tend to be on calls to the US in evenings even when I’ve been in the office all day. As such I’ve always struggled to find the best possible way to get good quality on phone conferences, where quality involves:

  • Being able to clearly hear other participants
  • Being able to be clearly heard
  • Others hearing a minimum of the ambient noise around me
  • Being able to easily mute my line
  • Being flexible to be used around the house

Up to now, I’ve tended to just use the speakerphone on one of our Siemens DECT handsets, which has fallen down on a number of the above requirements. VOIP has tended to be unreliable for a variety of reasons, not all of which are in my control. A fixed phone is out of the equation due to the location of the only phone socket in the house and a desire not to have cables snaking all over the place.

Our DECT phones do have Bluetooth, but they have been really unreliable when it comes to using with a headset. So, I’ve been looking for other options for a while.

The one I am now trying is a Plantronics C70 wireless DECT headset:

This is basically a regular DECT phone, but without the form factor of a phone, having just a mic and speaker. It connects to a DECT base station like any other handset. As usual with Plantronics gear, the quality is good and it is quite attractive to look at as well as being comfortable to wear. The docking station is used for charging. A full charge takes around 3 hours and claims to give up to five hours talk time.

Whilst incoming calls can be answered by pressing a button on the side of the headset, the astute will wonder how it can make outgoing calls without a keypad? The answer is that you need to do this on another phone, then transfer the call to the headset unit. Most DECT systems support call transfer. This is relatively painless in real life and I find that I’ve dialed in, entered my passcode and transferred the call to the headset before I’m joined into my conference call. The main pain here is that you need to keep another handset nearby.

Once on a call quality is good and I’ve not had any complaints about my voice quality, hiss, echo or background noise. I used to get this all the time when using the handset speakerphone.

Volume controls are located on the earpiece and are easy enough to use. However, my main gripe is that there is no dedicated mute button. Muting/Un-muting yourself involves holding the volume down key for a couple of seconds. Firstly, holding down a button behind your ear can become uncomfortable. Secondly, it means there is an appreciable delay before I can mute/un-mute myself which leads to stuttering when trying to respond to a question or avoiding others hearing dog barks! Thirdly, there is no way to have visual indication of whether you are muted or un-muted, therefore they use a quick double-beep every 15 seconds to remind you when you are on mute. In practice this is not intrusive mainly because the volume of the beeps is low compared to the noise of the conference call. However, the main failing is that the same beep mechanism is used to confirm the mute/un-mute operation. Three mid-tone beeps for mute and three low-tone beeps for un-mute. Because these are so similar, and both very hard to hear over conversation, you end up being unsure about exactly what state you are in, or if the button press has worked. This leads to “can you hear me” moments. Plantronics should either: provide a dedicated mute button on the earpiece; increase the volume of the beeps; make one a different number of beeps; or have a visual indicator on the dock when you are muted (though I realise that requires some wireless communication to happen between the dock and earpiece)

My other gripe is that it is sometimes hit and miss when replacing the earpiece in the dock. Twice now I’ve gone to start the first call of the day by picking the earpiece out of the dock to find out it is completely drained as the it hadn’t connected completely to the charge connectors.

Overall though it has been good to use and has certainly greatly improved the experience of taking regular work calls from home. A few tweaks and it would be perfect.

The BBC and why Geo IP location is stupid

Submitted as a complaint to the BBC complaints service:

I am an Englishman living and working in Dublin, Ireland. As such, I receive BBC channels via my Sky subscription, including BBC One and Two. As you broadcast your channels free-to-air I can also happily receive BBC Three, Four, News, Parliament and all BBC radio stations via Astra on my Sky box. However because your use of Geo IP location means that you consider me to be, quite correctly, outside of the UK when visiting the BBC home page I notice that the TV Channels widget shows me:

* BBC World News
* BBC America
* BBC Prime
* BBC Canada
* BBC Kids (Canada)
* BBC Food
* BBC Arabic
* BBC Entertainment
* Animal Planet
* People+Arts
* UKTV Australia
* BBC Knowledge
* BBC Lifestyle

Which is about as useful to me as a chocolate fireguard. If I go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/tv/ then I see the same, with a small box at the bottom showing links to the regular BBC UK channels.

In the two years that I’ve been living all of 100km from the UK mainland (a gap, by the way, that your AM broadcasts manage to bridge allowing me to continue to listen to 5 Live in my car on the way to and from work!) I’ve become used to the complete and utterly indiscriminate nature of Geo IP location technology as used by the BBC to control access to content for the UK licence payer. I’ve become used to its use in sweeping editorial changes to the BBC News site meaning that I can no longer choose what news is most important for me (because, as currently displayed, the beheading of a teacher in the Philippines is NOT more important to me than the story about the DUP’s dismissal of PSNI reserve abolishment plans shown in the same position on the UK front page!) I also accept the fact that the provision of expensive services such as iPlayer should only be available to licence holders. What does boil my bag is the black and white decision making that this technology imposes. You are either UK or not, and if not then hey, the entire world is lumped together in one group who obviously share the same interests and access to services. One supposes that the very same technology that can tell you when somebody is accessing from within the UK can also tell you (at least as reliably) where they are accessing from when outside the UK. A little customization would go a long way.

You know, I shouldn’t really complain too loudly. You see, I appear to head through some magic portal on the way to work every day, for when I get to my industrial estate on the outskirts of Dublin I am seemingly transported magically back to the UK. I see the UK news; see the uk channels; hell I can even use iPlayer if I wanted to waste my employer’s bandwidth. Never has the sheer lunacy of an access control mechanism based SOLELY on the use of Geo IP location been so comprehensively proved to be stupid. Yes, as you may have guessed, the network connection of my Irish employer pops out onto the internet somewhere in the UK. When, when will you wake up and realise that for the sake of a few development pounds you could provide much more utility to your consumers. For that matter, when will you realise that people outside the UK pay good money to shonky VPN suppliers just to get access to iPlayer and therefore circumvent Geo IP location. I know that you may not be so used to such things with your public sector ancestry, but that is a POTENTIAL REVENUE STREAM for you to exploit. Start offering a subscription model. If Spotify can do it properly I’m sure the combined talents of the BBC can. I’d pay to be able to receive BBC services in the way I want.

Finally, whilst I am on a roll, maybe you could answer a conundrum that I’ve so far failed to resolve. It is a simple question: why do you not care that Sky can make money out of providing your two main channels to customers in Ireland completely legitimately by placing them on their EPG and advertising them without those customers paying as single penny to the BBC in licence fee? We are not dodgy costa-del-ex-pats using a viewing card registered to a UK address, we are legitimate customers availing of your most expensive programming completely for free. Or are we? How do you get your coin from such people? Do you get a percentage from the ROI licence fee? Do Sky pay you? Or is this simply a gaping hole in the policies you otherwise use Geo IP location to so strictly and unashamedly implement?

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.

The iPhone comes to Ireland with a whimper

O2 Ireland are bringing the iPhone here on 14th March.

Some points:

  • No unlimited data plan. 1GB per month limit. 2c per MB after that. That works out at just over €20 for an extra GB/month.
  • No visual voicemail
  • €399 for the 8GB, €499 for the 16GB
  • €45 per month for the cheapest tarrif giving 175 minutes and 100 texts per month. 18 month agreement.

So, am I going to get one? No. Why?

  • I already have a 16GB iPod touch that does just about everything I need bar making calls
  • My Nokia N80 suits me fine.
  • I’ll wait for the 3G iPhone to come along thanks.
  • The handset prices are too high, coming in at more than £50 more expensive than you’d pay on O2 UK for a 16GB model.
  • I’m a Speakeasy (PAYG) customer. Those contract rates look stupid compared to what you get on O2 in the UK. £35 for 600 minutes, 500 texts, unlimited data and visual voicemail. I’m not about to sign up for 18 months of what o2.ie are offering.
  • No indication of any wifi hotspot deal such as O2 UK have with The Cloud.

All in all the term rip-off springs to mind.

iPhone event

So Apple have announced an event for 6th March (see TUAW) Here’s my wishes:

  • Obviously the SDK is going to be released. I hope this provides support for the iPod Touch as well.
  • Flash would be nice
  • Enterprise capabilities? Well support for 802.11 authentication and LEAP would be nice!
  • There’s already a VPN client, but I don’t know if I can use it to get into IBM (I suspect not) One where I knew I could would be cool

Thumbs up for Register1 hosting

This web site and blog is hosted by the ever excellent register1.net

On my previous blog entry I hit a problem when uploading photos (I normally just link from ones on flickr) Specifically I hit a php process memory limit. Register1 responded to my support ticket asking for the limit to be raised within 5 minutes and doubled the limit. That is amazing service given it is a Sunday. During some recent problems with my blog being hacked to insert search keywords and links they provided log details of attempted ftp accesses and blacklisted various IPs from China and elsewhere. All in all my experience of them over the last year has been entirely positive and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them for anybody in the UK or elsewhere looking for hosting.

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.