Alternate Option
Thoughts from me.
Saturday, April 30, 2005 9:08 pm
Audio Hijack Pro is now scriptable!
Yippee. Version 2.5 of Audio Hijack Pro is Applescriptable. Thank goodness. Previously, to automate a recording I had to use GUI scripting. It worked, but always felt a like a kludge (for lack of a better word). Now, a couple of lines of code/script later: clean and easy automatic recording.

I have to say, automation could be one of those software killer apps that Apple needs. Anyone using a combination of iKey, Quickeys, AppleScript and so on, will have to find equivalents, in the event that they switch platforms. Finding equivalent software is hard enough, let alone equivalent macro software.

[posted with ecto]

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4:51 pm
In general, Tiger is OK
I have mixed feelings about Tiger. A couple of features are outstanding and new. But that’s about it. Little else about the OS is super-exciting. Is this a good thing? An OS that gets out the way could be a considered a good one. However, Tiger just seems… boring…

I won’t go into the details of Spotlight as that would only be repeating what has already been mentioned countless times prior to OS X’s release. There is no denying the impressive feat that Spotlight is. The new focus on metadata shows results—and I mean that in more ways than one. My issue with Spotlight is that it does still seem a little tacked on. Not as “tacked on” as OpenDoc was (of course). Spotlight seems to try to do what a database does… but is not actually a true database. In the back of my mind I keep thinking that my computer is valiantly trying to keep everything in sync. So far it has, and doesn’t seem to have much trouble doing so. Thankfully Spotlight isn’t really a mission-critical bit of the OS—like moving the mouse is, for example. So any faults it shows later isn’t likely to ruin any of my data. I hope not anyway.

I’m not yet ready to give accolades to Apple Mail itself has a few pluses and minuses. It so happens that the large part of the new incredible-ness, comes from Spotlight.

So the second impressive thing about Tiger is Automator, which is aimed at the intermediate user. Automator is a natural progression for AppleScript however is a little more “high level” i.e. more user friendly. I find it has solved the major difficulties I had with AppleScript e.g. finding out if an Application is scriptable, accessing the “objects” I wanted, and finding out the right combinations of “actions” to apply to those objects. As a new AppleScript user, everything is experimental. As there are so many possible applications, data types, and possible commands, anything beyond “simple”, involves incredible form of trial and error. Now, Automator makes the simple things simple.

An example: I wanted to add the .jpg suffix to a group of files I selected. I could get away with using AppleScript. AppleScript or Perl aficionados would pooh pooh at such a simple task. However, the difficulty with such programming is real. Automator simply makes such automation within reach of the general user.

So far I have written 10 or so Automator scripts. Part of me thinks that I’ve chickened out of real AppleScript programming. However, the other part just enjoys the fruits of such automation. Automator: lowering the entry requirements for automation. While Spotlight has been emulated by Google and Yahoo!, Automator is truly Apple’s genius—finally they have managed to leverage AppleScript into something truly useful. I’m still glad I know some AppleScript: spend 20 seconds with Automator to reveal glaring limitations.

Spotlight and Automator just about takes up 70% of the “Wow” factor, for me. 15% of the “Wow” goes to speed. 4% “Wow” goes to the fact that swapping the Command and Option keys is now built into the operating system itself. 4% goes to the fact that most of my applications work, and that the OS itself is so stable. And 7% goes to miscellaneous, including

Dashboard has been seems to belong to another world. Simply because I don’t feel it to be much related to the operating system at all. It doesn’t seem to do anything that couldn’t have been done by a 3rd party, on any operating system. An activation key brings up a new environment, that runs little applications. OK, so like SideKick on MS-DOS. You didn’t really need a new version of MS-DOS just to run SideKick.

There several other miscellany throughout Tiger. The ones I know of have been contributed to this MacNN forum thread, and there isn’t much point in duplicating them here.

The most exciting new things that I have learnt about Tiger came from this Ars Technica article. Once again, logical and non-emotional. All that data about metadata and underlying APIs were so exciting. I somewhat wish there were more releases like this one, that improved the underpinnings of the OS, rather than introduce flashy new features. While Mac OS 9.2 looked much different from System 7.5 for example, the underlying architecture was so hopeless that Apple were really just spinning their wheels.

Panther is dead, long live the king.

[posted with ecto]

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005 11:30 pm
Tiger delay
I have been fiddling with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger for the last few days. Finally gotten round to running ecto.

Tiger is great! Love it. It’s not the incredible breakthrough that Apple would have use believe. That’s a good, and bad thing. For now, I think it’s mainly good.

[posted with ecto]

Sunday, April 24, 2005 2:40 am
What more can the iPod do? My lateral thought.
The Apple iPod is a magnificent device. I have had 2 different iPods—the first generation, and a 3rd generation 20 GB one. Sadly they did not fit into my digital lifestyle, and both have been eBayed.

At the time, my work consisted of answering a pager, or concentrating on a task, so listening to headphones wasn’t conducive. My work travel time was about 15–20 minutes, so the hassle of charging, carrying and hiding an iPod wasn’t worth it. When at a desk, I would listen to music on my PowerBook via speakers or earphones (if I was at home). Having an iPod also meant more cables, a dock, charger, case which was just more, in an already cluttered life.

Since then newer iPods have been released. As always the hard disk capacity increase; aside from that new features have been colour, and a longer battery life. Nice. But eventually all iPods with screens will have them in colour. And then what? Possibly OLED screens? Video maybe?

Larger iPod capacities introduce a problem on their own: the current concept of using an iPod involves synchronising data from a computer to the iPod hard disk. As iPods reach 80 and 100 GB, they will be catching up with laptop hard disks, which then mean that synchronising by itself no longer becomes a feasible thing. The Mac mini would have the same problem. “Real” desktop hard disks now go up to 250 or 400 GB so not yet a problem there. Soon either portable computer users start to put their music on external hard disks; or the iPod starts to become more of a hard disk backup and not synchronise everthing.

So far, iTunes’ design as having a monolithic music database has compounded the problem somewhat. It takes effort to maintain a music database with external hard disks, or in multiple locations, while avoiding deleted or duplicated files. I wonder if Apple will eventually recognise this problem by fixing it the “Apple-way”—which involves buying more iPods.

The fix
What if Apple further emphasised the iPod’s role as a music carrying device, adding a feature such that our music is only stored on the iPod? This eliminates the full music library from the notebook or desktop machine. At any time when we launch iTunes to listen to our MP3s, the MP3 files are streamed off the connected iPod. Clever buffering technology could then cache our most played songs and playlists on the notebook/desktop machine hard disk without user intervention. Similarly, groups of songs could be copied at a time to the notebook/desktop hard disk allowing the iPod hard disk to spin down. Disconnecting the iPod then still allows the user to listen to a subset of his entire library.

There are many benefits of this. Primarily is that it involves mostly innovative software. No tweaking to the iPod is necessary—essentially a portable hard disk itself; although knowing Apple they would probably market it as a new feature unavailable to older iPods.

For the user, it allows one to get rid of entire libraries of music—a duplicate of what is already on an iPod anyway. I now have 26 GB of music on my 80 GB PowerBook hard disk.

The benefits to Apple are plenty. If our music is solely on the iPod, our dependence on Apple’s white portable audio player increases. The iPod becomes even more associated with the music listening—even at our computers. Currently iPod=music. My plan can change this (slightly) to music=iPod. And maybe more people would buy iPods because they are running out of space to fit those pirated MP3 files. Of course it just so happens that they can listen to their music on the run as well. It’s all good for Apple.

Eventually, it may even be possible to plug my white music player into any computer, and listen to my music via iTunes. Listening only, not copying of course (and authorisation still applies). This way, I get to manipulating music and playlists on via iTunes (infinitely easier than on an iPod). I also get the benefit of desktop speakers, and charge my iPod battery at the same time.

Bad points: It does introduce some complexity to the current “just sync and it works” strategy—which is why the above idea should be optional. Secondly, having a redundant duplicate of our music, is a good thing—which is why the music needs to be further backed up to CDs/DVDs/more external hard disks. Backing up is a good thing, and more is better. It just doesn’t need to be in my PowerBook internal hard disk, that’s all.

[posted with ecto]

Friday, April 22, 2005 4:25 pm
Dell 2405FPW 24" LCD screen
A month back, someone had an idea to “mass buy” the newly released Dell 24" LCD screen direct from Dell Australia. The actual price was about A$1780, and this was negotiated down to A$1310 (or so, not sure) with several hundred buyers.

I made my order a little later, at A$1420, with Dell did their not-uncommon “20% off” sale. Aside from corporate orders or mass orders, this is about as low as the Australian prices go. As a comparison, Apple’s 23" LCD screen costs A$2551 (education pricing).

Anyway, 2.5 weeks later, the Dell 2405FPW has arrived at my doorstep. What a wonderful view this is.

My main source of information for this deal was Whirlpool Australia—a site devoted to broadband news coverage in Australia. It also attracts quite a few tech-savvy people, hence the organisation of the A$1310 mass order. Thanks to Whirlpool and forum participants.

I also can’t complain about Dell’s service. Despite continual reports of online about off-shoring and the language barrier issues, I have had no problems with them. They have been polite, helpful and efficient. Thumbs up!

For the last 2 weeks, the 2405FPW has not been available on Dell Australia’s site—probably because of low stocks. Some participants of the mass order are reporting very slow deliveries and long waits. One poster has seen boxes and boxes of 2405 LCD screens in one of the Australian courier warehouses, awaiting delivery. Is it possible this formerly luxury item will become one of the most commonly seen screens in Australia? I would’t be surprised.

I’m using Webshots for my high-resolution widescreen desktop pictures. Excellent!

[posted with ecto]

9:17 am
iTunes phone
The iTunes phone keeps showing up in the news, but unseen. In the GSM market, a phone that is ready to be released, is released. Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola have their mobile phone line en masse in tons of shops here in Australia, and also in Singapore, and Malaysia.

Not the iTunes phone though: It needs to be manufactured by one company, approved by the next, and then be “accepted” by the phone companies. By the time it is sold, the design would be months old. Get it out there already.

It better be a good phone it its own right: Somehow I don’t see iTunes Music Store compatibility being a major plus to someone selecting a mobile phone. In fact at this moment, when it comes to mobile phones, would you choose:
Apple is really successful with the iPod. If they are keen on the mobile phone market as well, they aren’t doing very well.

On a miserable note, all this talk of mobile phones and iPods is just trivia, to all those people struggling to live their lives, around the World.

[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, April 19, 2005 8:37 pm
Amnesty Global, right.
This week’s 24 episode features Amnesty Global! An attorney from there prevents CTU from torturing someone. Even funnier, is that the CTU boss dude gets on the phone with a Judge and explains that a suspect is found in the context of finding a missing nuclear warhead, and the judge says that the Patriot Act does not apply… What the president does is unrealistic—anyone knows you can’t organise a meeting in half an hour.

I suppose the creator of the show took the opportunity to demonstrate how the Patriot Act is actually a really warm and fuzzy thing to have. That’s the cynical me. Maybe they actually do want to give us the viewer food for thought. Mmm… or maybe they just wanted to inject some fresh ideas into a tired series.

Funny, I remember “Western Countries” complaining about the Malaysian and Singaporean “Internal Security Act” 10 years ago. Now everyone wants one. Amnesty International and what it stands for just got mocked on television I think. It’s scary how I find that entertaining.

Can’t wait for next week.

“I’m not going upstairs until I know it is safe!”

[posted with ecto]

Monday, April 18, 2005 11:44 pm
PSC scholar
Looks like the verbal swashbuckling is still going on at the SPUG forums. CZ (the PSC scholar) has some friends that have showed up defending CZ now. And some calming word are being spoken giving a good overview of the situation. Not really a flame war just yet. It would be much easier to read if the participants used proper punctuation, and capitalisation. I don’t think after today I will be going back to have a look.

As I’ve posted before, I think it is impossible for me to follow a discussion on an Internet discussion board. My temperament is such that I usually end up unhappy, or regretting something I posted.

So this guy got pwned big time. He got caught doing something not uncommon, but not generally done in public. The question of whether it was ethical for someone to “hack” into his blog to find that information is a valid one. I for one would be uncomfortable if my 10 years of email got sent to the public domain. Most of us keep our email passwords relatively secure, but what if our emails/private thoughts were leaked? Should details such as our love letters, image attachments, evil private thoughts be endlessly discussed on a public forum? Let he who has no sin cast the first stone…

First point to note, is that the “hack” was a pretty easy one, from the sounds of it.

The 2nd point is, no matter what you think the ethics of the hacking: the word is already out. That discussion is moot. The revelations are now an event. And now the discussion will be about repercussions.

When Ceciliantas was caught gallivanting in Everquest, was the tattler punished? No…

When Paris Hilton’s phone was hacked into, and the details splashed all over the Internet, the “hacker” certainly wasn’t jeered. Because the exposé had already happened, and the discussion was about the details. Was Ms Hilton heckled like CZ was? Um… no.

But CZ’s detractors have been baying for blood… Why?

My thoughts are:
• Partly because he is a PSC scholar his actions reflect upon Singaporeans.
• Partly because he comes across on his blog as a prick.
• The bigger reason is that his comments—verbatim—have now made its way into the public domain, open to netizen. With the full text out there, there is no question about “…taken out of context…”, “…inside joke…”, “…different persona…”. These posts are from the horse’s mouth.
• And another big reason: his apology, seen in the Sunday Straits Times, and on his website ring hollow

So what was his mistake?
From my experience being in Singapore, thoughts like his are not exactly uncommon. I can imagine his being a self-professed crème de la crème living an insular, upper class life, it is his version of the truth.

His mistakes are: he got caught. And he did not come across as contrite.

So what now?
It is only early days. What happens now is only up to the Singapore authorities—depending on how the facts are spun. He could be tarred and feathered (surprise me Singapore). Or the topic of racism could become front page news, and endlessly discussed until nothing is left.

Or his online persona could just disappear. The fact that his main mistake was to get caught is emphasised in the comment column of the ST. Bloggers are criticised for yelling “Fire” in a crowded cinema. The “other side” of his persona is revealed. PSC gives him a public slap on the wrist. He quietly does whatever it is that PSC math majors do. Then 2 years later Life! does a “This-is-your-life” with CZ—his life and achievements celebrated, and the world is a better place.

Details of his blog exploits are murky and forgotten by Joe Public. Or the insane will remember them. That is what will happen.

[posted with ecto]

Sunday, April 17, 2005 4:31 pm
Bittorrent again
This is a followup to the original posting here.

It took me exactly 7 hours to download a 2 GB image file.

Now, if this 2GB represented computer software, would I still be willing to pay full price simply for the privilege of receiving the same thing on a DVD? A DVD that contains an identical set of ones and zeroes as the image file I now have on my hard disk?

If I transferred this image file to a friend, would he/she/it be tempted to pay full price for a DVD before being “allowed” to use this software? I doubt it.

I have a 1.5 kbit/s download via ADSL—by no means the fastest connection in Australia. ADSL2+ has just been announced and touted by at least 3 broadband Internet Service Providers now. Someday, 2GB downloads will be… Pfft. Nothing. With 400GB hard disks, and large pipes, the future is downloading. 4–5 hours of letting the computer do its work. No need for driving around, parking, calling ahead to check stock and so on. Instant gratification.

Software companies—get smart about selling software now. Get your software into as many hands as possible, using whatever means available. Then sell licenses over the Internet instead. Hopefully by the time Mac OS X 10.5 is released, digital distribution of large images will be the norm.

[posted with ecto]

11:09 am
My own boring blog
The Straits Times—much loved Singapore broadsheet—reported on a Singapore scholar posting racist comments on his blog. This was much discussed on, and a 2nd site which seems to have removed much of their comments—so not linked.

It’s quite eye-opening, flipping through archives of his blog though, as to how much people feel compelled to put their whole lives and thoughts onto blogs… Yes, and how capital letters and punctuation need not apply on blogs. I just had to add these here: ~~. It’s not a blog if you don’t ~~ have ~~ these ~~.

I don’t particularly feel that this dude's thoughts are unusually uncommon, from what I recall being in Singapore for 7 years (12 years ago). The people I knew who were Chinese mixed mostly/only with Chinese. They were indoctrinated that Singapore is the success story of South East Asia, surrounded by Muslim countries. Their exposure to other races within their own country was minimal. Derogatory comments get surreptitiously passed all the time. But dude keep these sorts of thoughts in the master race of your own mind. To write them down is a bit stupid. To type them up in public is idiocy. One word: PWN3D!

Just take a look carefully at the reaction in the Straits Times article: the remarks were racist. But his friends and dad say he isn’t.

Remarks can exhibit innate racism than the writer did not have, see…?

My own blog is so much duller… :(

[posted with ecto]

Friday, April 15, 2005 5:58 pm
Think Secret… made stronger
It looks like Think Secret—one of the 3 websites involved in the Apple/Asteroid lawsuit—has gained instant notoriety and credibility. Think Secret has got some things right recently. They did get the April 1st Tiger release date wrong. Oh yes, the Pope did die then… 

Think Secret's brush with Apple seems to have bought it some street credibility. Posters in the online discussion in the days running up to April 1st were brimming with confidence of the April 1st date. Now that Think Secret has posted more rumours of Apple's upcoming hardware, more fan sites have referenced to them again—sometimes verbatim.

Insanely Great Macintosh
Mac Rumors

Almost all of whom start with: ThinkSecret cites ”highly reliable“ sources to…”

[posted with ecto]

12:31 pm
Apple’s sales
I haven’t had a good look at Apple’s recently announced numbers yet. The shipped number of Macintoshes is the first thing I look at. Apple hasn’t been able to sell 5 million Macs in a year, for a quite a few years now. Hopefully they will sometime in 2005.

They managed to shift roughly the same number of Macintoshes this quarter, as they did last quarter. Last quarter was special, given that it was an end of year XMas quarter. The current numbers seem to represent the Mac mini maintaining sales numbers rather than dramatically increasing them.

The online news outlets seem to emphasise the comparison with the same quarter last year. I suppose that’s accurate, although coincidentally that comparison provides a nice printable statistic (“xxx% more Macs!”).

To me, as long as Apple keeps shifting more computers—it’s a good thing. The baddish news is that I think the Mac mini is cannibalising sales of the consumer Macintoshes, rather than increase the market. The phrase commonly heard when referring to yesteryear’s Macintosh clones.

Given that Apple has had 10-week waiting lists for the Mac mini, this cannibalising is not a good thing.

Think Secret is reporting new machines, and the word is they might be released next week! Just in time… But… would it benefit Apple if they were officially announced before Tiger, after Tiger, or on 29th April 6 pm? Mmm… the mind boggles.

[posted with ecto]

Thursday, April 14, 2005 12:09 am
Wikipedia resignation
After having edited both the Wikipedia articles on the iMac and the iBook, I’ve decided to stop right there. I love Wikipedia, and visit it almost everyday. It ranks slightly below the Internet Movie Database, AppleTalk Australia, Whirlpool, MacNN forums, all my RSS feeds, Google News, and Google itself. So about 7th most visited site—see I am quite passionate about it.

I don’t get/grok/dig the idea of editing a free encyclopaedia though. The iMac and iBook articles were so aimless and disorganised, I couldn’t stand it. I felt like I was slashing and burning the entire article when I rewrote the whole thing. Yes, and it took me about 4 hours ×2 (for 2 articles). Later, I just had to edit the Launceston (Tasmania) article as well, although that was really short.

The Wikipedia help file does have some good advice for new contributors. I might be a spectator again for a while, before making more contributions. One day, when I’ve got really nothing to do.

[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, April 13, 2005 10:01 am
Tiger system requirements
Ah, another day, another… but no, the Tiger’s release announcement dominates the online chatter.

Apple’s official system requirements are listed here. Just a summary of my additional thoughts system requirements:
  1. FireWire is required. The last Macintosh that shipped without FireWire was one of the iMac G3s that were end-of-lifed in February 2001 (maybe).
  2. For some reason the Pismo is left off Apple's chart (same link as the one above)
  3. iChat AV 3 has a different set of system requirements that I was unaware of. A chart can be seen here. The one that particular affected me was the Dual G4/G5 needed for initiating a multi-party chat. A 300+ kbit/s upload speed is also required. Looks like no PowerBook on the universe (outside Infinite Loop) will initiate multi-party chats in the year 2005. Ah well…
  4. Mac OS X does not support processor upgrade cards! For a while now, Apple has made sure their computers are not processor upgradeable. From memory, the last one worth mentioning was for Power Macintosh G4 sold 2 years ago. Processor upgrade companies tout their “full Mac OS X” compatibility frequently. I wonder how this changes things.
  5. WWDC is chock full of Tiger workshops, so there is no way 10.5 will be announced there. 10.4 will have to keep us happy for a while. It’s hard to believe that Panther will no longer be the cutting edge. :(
The online chatter is again hilarious. Mostly with regards to the FireWire requirement. Although there was this forum speculating about the Tiger’s DVD drive requirement. Again proving my previous point about impossible online discussion.

[posted with ecto]

12:26 am
Apple copyright violation, futility of Internet discussion, and Mac OS X Tiger
This is an interesting post. Looks like someone’s copyrighted text has appeared somewhere on Apple’s developer site. On first glance, it looks like the owner reported the violation, and Apple removed the violating text. Sounds good.

However, the discussions that follow are so heated and emotional, that I didn’t feel much point in reading further to see if there actually remains some controversy. I cringed when the author felt that a person at Apple Norway wasn’t as helpful as he wanted. I’ll see what happens in the next few days, if I remember.

I’ve been thinking over the last few days, that is seems impossible to maintain a productive on-topic discussion about some important issues over the Internet. Try to discuss abortion, Terry Schiavo, digital rights management or politics on the Internet, and the resulting signal-to-noise ratio is hopeless. And yet, the discussions continue. No one wins except the people that run the website—if they wanted some extra hits on their website.

Reading the comments about actors and movies at the Internet Movie Database is hilarious: “This actress can’t act.” followed by responses like “She was great in this!!”, “If you hate her so much, why do you post on her page?”, or “I hate trolls like you. Why don't you try acting, if you think you know so much…”.

Other honeypots for controversy are the Paul Thurott/Scobleizer/Dvorak rants. Thurott is particularly sneaky with his condescending Apple-isn’t-as-cool-as-you-think-angle. Er… yea OK. BFD.

Oh, by the way, we are 16 days away from Mac OS X Tiger. Yahoo. Looks like AppleTalk Australia got it right. The fantastic thing of course, is that Australia gets it first. I wonder what the official Bittorrent release date will be.

[posted with ecto]

12:02 am
24 Season 4 Episode 17
Wow, episode 17 of 24 was one of the best of the season in recent memory. I suppose the writers do have some interesting stuff in the final 6 hours. Some of the recent hours have seemed like much padding.

Last season, the villain Steven Saunder's mid to end game was quite apparent once it as identified that he had a daughter—hence some pressure point. The ending was “we'll use his daughter for this…”, “we'll use his daughter for that…”. Although the Almeida angle was fun.

This week, the main villain doesn't yet have a loose ends as yet. Maybe Behrooz knocks him out, or steals something he needs… I wonder whether the McClennan-Forrester “defense company” comes back into play. You know how evil corporations can be… starting a shootout in EMP-blackouted L.A.

I thought I heard that the David Caruso/Michael J. Fox/Eric Stoltz-lookalike and his F-117 had been shot down. Thank goodness. That guy was as exciting as sushi. Whatever happened to the Curtis dude (black dude 2nd in command that didn't become head of CTU), and Audrey Raine’s dad? I suppose they went to have a snooze, since it would be “unrealistic” if no one had any downtime/went to the toilet/took a bath… I don't think they moonlighted as surgeons treating Paul Raines. The CTU trauma surgeon/spinal specialist position has already been filled.

I just had to insert a cougar mention right here.

[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, April 12, 2005 1:26 pm
DealBITS drawing
TidBITS is a free weekly Macintosh publication that has been around for years. In the last year or so, they have started to holding weekly drawings of sponsored software.

This week, they are drawing PDFPen Pro which is quite a nifty piece of software. Almost a US$100 value.

If you want to join, please follow this link. Doing so also gives me an extra chance to win.

[posted with ecto]

4:24 am
Ah, Wikipedia
I've just spent 4 hours editing the Apple iMac page on Wikipedia. I hope it's worth it. I'm going to have a snooze now.

[posted with ecto]

Monday, April 11, 2005 10:06 pm
Tiger requests
The Apple forums are filled with questions about Tiger's compatibility!

“Is Tiger compatible with application x?”
“Will Tiger run well on my current machine?”
“Does Tiger have this feature?”

Why don't these people wait until Tiger is actually released? Tiger is at most 80 days away, and we will find out then won't we? Instead, we get speculation after speculation. “Yes it will…”, “No it won't…”, “Yes too…!” ∞

FFS, we still have Panther to play with!

[posted with ecto]

12:08 am
Apple iSight
I have to sing the praises of the Apple iSight. My wife and her family spend their lives apart, but get to see each other over their broadband connection, and chat for hours a day.

When the iSight and iChat AV were first released, there was a plethora of complaints about the inability to have stable connections. The purported compatibility for audio and video chats with AIM 5.5 seemed to increase the number of complaints.

Now, months and months later, I don't know what has changed, but something has. Video connections between iChat AV clients running the latest system updates are flawless. As with most discussion of audio/video chats, I should specify that both sides are running latest versions of Panther, with all the system updates, and have broadband. Both are G4s 1.25 MHz and above, with more than 512 MB of RAM.

We are in Australia, and use a 1.5Mbit/256kbit ADSL connection, via an airport connection to a Netgear DG834G with all sorts of security measures. No ports are open on our end.

The other party is in Malaysia, and use a direct connection via an ADSL modem without a router.

We can't wait for Tiger to be released, just so that my brother-in-law can join in the fun as well—three-way-chat. Woo hoo.

[posted with ecto]

Saturday, April 09, 2005 12:05 am
Having 2 computers (or backups)
I just read this in a forum… (paraphrased)
If you have need your Mac for work, you should install Tiger on a spare partition, so that you can revert to 10.3.8 just by rebooting. Otherwise, you should not install Tiger until you see read about the experiences of others.
The poster had good intentions, but did not go far enough: Everyone must have a backup of their work before even thinking about starting to install Mac OS X Tiger on a Macintosh.

There should be a “no backup, no sympathy” policy for everyone who complains on an Internet forum that a software install hosed their system, and they had to reinstall from scratch.

Now that I have that off my chest, the initial point of all this was that the value of 2 computers is greater than the sum of them separately.

Most of the requests for help online that I have read come from a computer nerd wanting advice on why something isn't working. Sadly, the rest of the requests are from those who have just bought their first computer and things aren't as rosy as they would like. Advertisements and ringing endorsements from other buyers raise expectations too high. Questions abound, like “Why do all my DVD burns fail?”, “My iPod doesn't work”, “My broadband isn't working”, “I can't scan”… on and on.

Unfortunately, most of these types of questions are easier to solve with a 2nd computer available at hand; and the types of people who need this type of help are those without a 2nd computer. It is hard to find a solution better than: “Try it on another computer/hard disk/account/DVD burner/FireWire port”.

For people with single computers, the frustrated solution is usually “bring it back to the shop”, “do a full reinstall”, “create a new account and try again”. Which for the novice, must suck, and for the helpers is also unsatisfactory. Operating system reinstallation nowadays is a difficult task. For those in isolated areas, the problem is compounded.

I have had to deal with computer issues from family and relatives. Most of my relatives now are quite savvy and can fix things themselves now, thanks to loads of experience, and also to Mac OS X which isn't as fussy as OS 9 was. Probably also because over the years, they have continually upgraded from the ancient Power Macintosh 6200 machines up to the current PowerBook G4s, with about 8 Macintoshes or thereabouts in between. All distributed among themselves, and in use.

Troubleshooting is so much easier then—a Quick-And-Dirty backup (QDB) of important files involves copying them over a network to another Mac. Multiple Macs can perform backups on separate partitions on a single FireWire hard disk. Similarly DVD burners, printers, scanners, and so on, can be shared and troubleshooted on multiple machines/platforms.

A spare power cable, USB cable, video cable and so on, can sometimes be all it takes to separate a major disaster, from a minor inconvenience.

I wonder then, given the amount of computer advice that seems to be required all over the Internet, whether it should be semi-mandatory to expect computer beginners to have 2 computers; or at 1 extra at hand, for troubleshooting. In which case it would be kosher for us to say “get another computer to try it out”, as a response to technical support requests.

If it isn't, then at least let them:
At least to do a QDB, if not a clone. Remember: “No backup, no sympathy” is the word.

[posted with ecto]

Friday, April 08, 2005 6:00 pm
Mac mini shipping delays
The delays in Mac mini shipping doesn’t seem to be in the news much.

The situation in Australia is pretty bad, judging from this thread on AppleTalk Australia—a Macintosh fan site. I can only describe 10 weeks on the waiting list as “sucks ass big time”.

Even more aggravating is that some people have to pay upfront when placing their order. Apple should not be rewarded for this type of behaviour.

IMHO, every day after a computer is released, is a day closer to when it will be superseded, hence the value of the computer drops daily; whether it’s in your hands or not.

The only plus point is hopefully Apple is shipping a super incredible amount of these in the States, making it physically impossible for them to ship Australia’s. The breakdown in numbers will be interesting to see.
3:02 pm
Today I received an email, and to my surprise it supported format=flowed. I thought only Apple and Eudora supported f=f, and I was quite sure this dude who sent me this email was using neither.

The heading was:

Date: Fri, 8 Apr 2005 14:23:15 +1000
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain;
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-Priority: 3
X-MSMail-Priority: Normal
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2900.2180

So I suppose Outlook Express 6 for Windows supports it as well then. Surprising.

Disappointingly, most people are unaware of the significance of f=f. Considering the massive amount of email circling the globe, it's such a waste to have a perfectly good idea being unused. Unfortunately there isn’t a body or company that specifically promotes it, and it’s all really sad.
Thursday, April 07, 2005 7:44 am
Sony's MP3 player
My RSS feed showed me this BetaNews announcement of Sony’s new NW-HD5. I would take MP3 players so much more seriously if they weren’t referred to as iPod killers.

Someone will eventually rethink the whole MP3 player/portable music player concept, and then maybe Apple will lose it’s current dominance. But for now, headlines like “XXX’s iPod killer” suffixed with a “?” just earn an eye rolling and “Yea right. Next.”
Wednesday, April 06, 2005 10:02 pm
Mac OS X Tiger on May 1st? Or April 30th?
It looks like AppleTalk, a forum based in Australia has "confirmed" a May 1st date, with speculation of April 30th since that would be a weekend. Somehow Think Secret, and the usual rumour sites haven't mentioned any further dates aside from “sometime in April”. So this would be a totally different source from the “usual ones”.

I still consider June 30th to be the actual release date, just to avoid disappointment. Ha!
9:42 pm
Last nights episode of 24 (episode 16) was one of the high points for season 4. At least something interesting happened. The events of the last few “hours” have been a little contrived. I suppose all the seasons had times like these, when it's not close enough to the end, to start wrapping things up.

For me at least, watching 24 has become sort of a “duty”, like watching Matrix Revolutions, or Star Wars Episode III. In the back of my mind I think that “as long as it doesn’t suck too bad, it’s okay”. But I know it ain’t going to be great.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005 9:11 pm
Get new with selling software
In my time...

Yea, about 10 years ago, this game called Maelstrom from Ambrosia software was released. It appeared in FTP mirror sites of the InfoMac archives around the world. Description of the software was found on Usenet, and in the text file included in the archive. The expectation was that people copied it to their computer on, get this, floppy disks.

Yes, the Internet was available then. However, the World Wide Web wasn't really worldwide yet. And you think that was old? Maelstrom was an iteration of the Asteroid game, which 10 years ago was already really really old.

On with the story now. Maelstrom was released as a free download, with the expectation that if you liked it, you would pay for it. If you didn't, you shouldn't play it further. However, the author did not waste code trying to restrict non-payers from playing the game. Entering a serial code simply disabled a start up reminder screen. The game was one of your routine arcade things, so there wasn't any level design to speak of. Each level just included more “baddies”: more rocks, metal asteroids, more UFOs, and everything moved faster. As Ambrosia SW started to write other games that required level design, and for various other reasons, they started to get rid of that type of copy protection.

Ambrosia SW have done well for themselves. While Aspyr, Westlake Interactive have done a remarkable job porting games from the PC world, Ambrosia SW have created a library of original games most of which are simpler, but excellent. A significant portion of their games were based on tried-and-tested classic games -- Apeiron is based on Caterpillar, Mars Rising and Deimos Rising were shoot ups, and Ferazel's Wand was a side scroller . Another company that has been doing a similar thing, is Freeverse. Freeverse concentrated on card games for a while, then branched out into an Airburst series. And also publishes the odd PC conversion; although I don't think the PC conversion is done in-house.

In the last 10 years, the world has changed. Computers are faster, bigger, and largely cheaper. Operating Systems are not upgraded, but overhauled. Classic games stay the same though: Ambrosia SW just released an update to their 2nd famous game Apeiron that “caterpillar” game, mainly for OS X compatibility. It is a tribute to Ambrosia, for creating a game, that 10 years later, essentially unchanged, still looks gorgeous.

That could be the end of my blog: the point being that old classic games have the potential to live for ever. There's no reason that “Caterpillar” iterations start to become boring just because our computers are faster. In comparison, newer games since then have come, burned out, and gone. Diablo and Diablo 2, Warcraft, Command and Conquer -- all less than 10 years old. They would be a tougher sell to a random gamer than Apeiron or even Tetris would be, I suspect.

The point to this blog is: Large game companies would do take a look at the shareware distribution models. To some extent, the line between application software and shareware is blurred. I can't get Microsoft Office Mac 2004 for download yet (From now, download = legal download unless mentioned otherwise), although I can get a Test Drive from Microsoft. Similarly with FileMaker Pro. In the open source universe of Linux, downloading software is the rule, not the exception. Downloadable software no longer equates to shareware. Interarchy, a Macintosh FTP program, and File Buddy, a Macintosh utility software take pains to emphasise that they are not shareware. They are commercial software are distributed via the Internet. A TidBITS Talk thread debates the point.

It looks like everywhere you turn, everywhere where some software is mentioned, a download of a demo is possible. We do it all the time, trying this and that shareware. Downloading trojan horses, and virii. It's so fast and easy. Apple doesn't have OS X Tiger available for download, and won't. But they make damn sure that they have excellent QuickTime movies that whet the appetite of the curious. Everyone wants the instant gratification, of downloading, trying, and maybe paying. Suprnova allowed the public to see the numbers of seeders and leechers downloading large disk images of software. Weekly television shows are routinely seeded over the Internet so that we are not beholden to the local television station taking it's own sweet time to bring a television series to us.

The large software companies, including the companies that port Mac games are resistant. Macintosh games like Halo, Call of Duty, B1942, Return to Castle Wolfenstein are distributed only on disk form because of the ongoing perception is that large games like these need to be shifted in physical form. With Bittorrent though, that is no longer true. The ability of the public to download files of that size have increased markedly. Over an ADSL connection, a 650MB disk image can be obtained in hours -- 3-5 hours would not be on the lower end of the spectrum.

We have the need. We can fill that need, with or without you.

Point 1: make the Internet a primary way of software distribution. It is already being done on the hush hush anyway. Leverage the Internet to distribute your gigabytes.

Point 2: Sell serial numbers. People will pay for software, if you give them a chance AND if you make it necessary. You can't stop the determined pirater no matter what. But you can give the honest dude the chance to do the right thing. Paying for software is actually easier than finding a crack for it; especially when unique serial numbers are needed for online play. When a buyer buys a box, he knows that a significant percentage of the money paid went into the packaging, the shelf space, the transport. Little taxes along the way -- what a turn off. If someone has free bandwidth, why should he pay physical transport costs of digital bits and bytes?

The Plain Truth Abouth Piracy

Point 3: Keep updating your software, so that it runs well, but only until it's superseded by a more fun game on a faster computer. The installed base in the future will always be made of faster computers. The return from updating the original Wolfenstein 3D would be miniscule because the Wolf 3D market has moved on to more “fun”, realistic games. But Tetris... like Caterpillar and Asteroids is always the same concept, no matter how fast the computer is.

It can be done. Look at Ambrosia software, and look at sites like Home of the Underdogs.

Home of the Underdogs is a site devoted to “disappeared” games. Games like Prince of Persia 1&2, Lode Runner, Flashback, Out of This World, Carmen Sandiego and so on; were excellent game ideas. The reason games like these faded away is not just that they were superseded by new technology -- although there is that. Just like jokes and riddles, there is no reason to think that the market for games of these types have dried up. 2D games have been unfairly tossed aside because of the perception that 3D > 2D. Some publisher felt the cost of distribution was too high, it was no longer worth producing the boxes, and the games were no longer distributed. When the floppy disks, and CDs containing them disappeared, the game disappeared as well. Excellent computer games, unpromoted, ceased to existed.

Excellent games, promoted, supported and distributed, will continue to have a chance.

One more thing: I love Bubble Trouble now, like I did when I paid for it 8 years ago.
1:05 am
Tiger not on April Fools day
It looks like the rumour sites were wrong about April 1st. Specifically Think Secret. No direct admission from them though (“We were wrong!”). Just silence. We did get a 2nd wave of rumours that Tiger had gone “Golden Master” though. I suppose that is a good thing.

The further spin is that Apple is delaying the Tiger announcement because of the Pope’s death. While I don’t doubt that the Pope is dead, and that announcing a release of a major operating system during this period just isn’t Steve Job’s style, I wonder whether that detracts from the possibility that the April 1st date was just wrong to begin with.

In the meantime, some of Apple’s other hardware is overdue for updates - the list is a long one. I’ll just exclude the PowerBooks since they were updated recently. Buying Apple hardware is one strange thing. I haven’t formulated my thoughts about this yet. At this point, I do wonder if the ongoing “release watch” for Tiger is damping down on new hardware sales. I for one ain’t buying a new machine without Tiger on it. Bwa ha ha.

With regards to Tiger: Take your time Apple. Whatever you are doing, sounds good so far.
Monday, April 04, 2005 10:00 am

The Pope is dead. Rest in peace.

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