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Unprofessional in Black · I’m talk­ing about my com­put­er, which is a MacBook, not a MacBook Pro, and a love­ly flat black colour. It’s by a long shot the best Mac I’ve ev­er had. I gath­er the Pro line is due for a re­fresh soon; it bet­ter be good, be­cause at this point any­one who buys a sil­ver Mac is mak­ing a big mis­take ...
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Skype+Bluetooth · I’ve talked this up be­fore, but with Lau­ren in Ox­ford this week, I’ve re­al­ly come to ap­pre­ci­ate the ben­e­fits of run­ning Skype with a good Blue­tooth head­set. She sounds like she’s sit­ting next to me, you don’t have to punch in 15-digit num­ber­s, and it’s free.
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Black Box Again · I was at a meet­ing the oth­er day, serv­ing as a pan­elist at the Wiki­nomics book launch tour with Don Tap­scott (in­ter­est­ing stuff, I’ll write about it when I’ve fin­ished read­ing the book). Dur­ing the pre-meeting schmooze I got talk­ing to a Univer­si­ty CIO and he was all ex­cit­ed about the Black­box. “Huh?” I said; he’s in the mid­dle of a city and has tons of nice mod­ern build­ings. It turns out his Seventies-era da­ta cen­ter filled up a lit­tle faster than they’d pre­dict­ed, and they have bud­get and lo­ca­tion for a new one but that’s go­ing to take a sol­id two years and by De­cem­ber of this year he’s look­ing at a big-bucks tem­po­rary up­grade of the old fa­cil­i­ty. An in­ter­im Black­box in a shed prob­a­bly saves him megabuck­s. I may have even helped a bit. I know his cam­pus a bit, and I seem to re­mem­ber what the tem­per­a­ture spec on the wa­ter hookup is (I won’t guess in pub­lic here though) and if I’m right, he’s got plen­ty of wa­ter that’s more than cool enough right there. So I said that and asked him “Are you sure you’re go­ing to need cooling?” and he bright­ened right up; if I’m right, he just saved an­oth­er pile of dough. Any­how, looks to me like the prod­uct has legs; I read some­where the oth­er day that we’re go­ing to be get­ting com­pe­ti­tion, which is un­sur­pris­ing.
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Sun SPOTs · Hey, they’re fi­nal­ly ship­ping. I’ve been hear­ing this Sun SPOT buzz out of the labs for years, and now they’re sell­ing them; and some­one wrote the bloggers’ list to say that peo­ple are buy­ing them. Smal­l. Embed­dable. Wire­less. Ja­va on the met­al. Cool.
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Black Beauty Follow-Up · I’ve now been us­ing the new MacBook for a week. I think I can con­clude that, for my pur­pos­es at least, it’s a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive than the Pro would have been ...
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Samsung WEP-200 · The WEP-200 is a Blue­tooth head­set, I use it with both my Sam­sung phone and my Mac (works great for Skype). I’d whole­heart­ed­ly rec­om­mend it, as­sum­ing you find it com­fy in your ear. It’s small enough that you have a lit­tle less of the cy­borg look when you walk down the street con­nect­ed, elegant-looking, has great sound, and seems to most­ly Just Work ...
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The iPod shuffle · I’d nev­er owned an iPod, but re­cent­ly picked up one of the new shuf­fles (the lower-case ver­sion of the name seems to be of­fi­cial). It’s an aw­ful­ly ap­peal­ing lit­tle pro­duc­t ...
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Shameless Hucksterism · They asked me to plug this SDN pro­mo on the Ul­tra 20 and, since I ac­tu­al­ly use one, it seems like a rea­son­able thing to do. I’m kind of out of touch with what work­sta­tions are sup­posed to cost, but un­less we’re charg­ing way too much, 35% off should be de­cen­t. And while I didn’t pay for mine, I can per­son­al­ly tes­ti­fy that these pup­pies are meat-grinders, it’s by a long shot the fastest per­son­al com­put­er that I’ve ev­er used. Mind you, it won’t en­hance the decor of your of­fice. And if you get one, take my ad­vice and run GNU/So­laris on it. [Up­date: Er, uh, there doesn’t seem to be any in­for­ma­tion be­hind that link on how you ac­tu­al­ly get the box, or what it cost­s. Blush. Will ask around and fill in­.]
 
Dell Monitors · Just to prove that I can say nice things about Del­l: Mom vis­it­ed us over Christ­mas, and is think­ing about re­plac­ing the the mouldy old 15" CRT plugged in­to her new Mac mi­ni. So we walked around the lo­cal elec­tron­ics mega­mart and looked at the HP and Sam­sung and LG screen­s, which seemed much of a much­ness. At home, we went over to the Dell Cana­da mon­i­tors page, and wow, they were slaugh­ter­ing the big-box store; way bet­ter specs for no­tice­ably less mon­ey. I’ve seen the Dell screens and they’re good, and de­cent­ly styled too. I told her the old trick of book­mark­ing the page and mon­i­tor­ing the price ev­ery day or two for a few weeks un­til you learn to spot the pat­terns and strike when there’s a deal, and I bet Dell gets her busi­ness. [Up­date: I wrote this last week, then saw Jere­my Zawodny’s an­guished Dell-hell howl; I’ve de­cid­ed not to shriek “Stop!” at Mom be­cause, af­ter al­l, most of the screens aren’t go­ing to ar­rive bro­ken.]
 
How To Use Your Ultra · So, I’ve got this meat-grinder that runs NetBeans just in­sane­ly faster than my Pow­erBook, and I’d like to use it. The trou­ble is, I’ve al­ready got 3,397,120 pixels’ worth of screen real-estate and if I add more I won’t be able to see out my win­dow; and one key­board & mouse are enough. So­lu­tion: run the Ul­tra head­less and talk to it via the Mac, us­ing X11. It’s not problem-free but it work­s. Il­lus­trat­ed with pic­tures of de­li­cious­ly smooth, stream­lined ac­tu­al work­ing code. [Up­date: There is hope.] ...
 
Go Get a New Computer · That is to say, if you’re a soft­ware de­vel­op­er, or any­one whose com­put­er does some heavy lift­ing, and yours isn’t that new be­cause you’ve been un­ex­cit­ed by the last cou­ple of years’ new sys­tem­s. I say this be­cause I’ve start­ed fool­ing around with an Ul­tra 20 (dis­clo­sure: I didn’t pay for it) and holy crap, have desk­side ma­chines ev­er come along while I wasn’t look­ing. Great big huge com­pli­cat­ed Web pages just snap in­to place; NetBeans starts up in sec­ond­s; com­piles are done be­fore your fin­ger leaves the “build” func­tion key. The Ul­tra, an Opteron at 2.6GHz/2GB, is I think about as über as a single-CPU ma­chine get­s. I sup­pose there are two-headed box­es that would eat its lunch, but that gets in­to some re­al mon­ey. Th­ese pup­pies start at $900 and stay un­der $3K and our mar­keters claim they’re out front on bang for the buck. I wouldn’t know, but the busi­ness be­ing what it is, I’d be sur­prised if the com­pe­ti­tion were dra­mat­i­cal­ly cheap­er or more ex­pen­sive; ex­cept for, I poked around a bit and didn’t find any oth­er main­stream play­ers sell­ing single-Opteron work­sta­tion­s. Would I have paid a kilo­buck or three for this pro­duc­tiv­i­ty boost if I’d known what it felt like? No doubt about it. Read on for some de­tail­s, pro and con ...
 
The Mouse BT · I was in the drug­store pick­ing up a pre­scrip­tion and wan­dered in­to the com­put­er sec­tion, where I found my­self impulse-buying The Mouse BT from some out­fit I’ve nev­er heard of called DVForge. It’s Blue­tooth and looks like an Ap­ple mouse, on­ly it’s got two but­tons (the way this is ac­com­plished seems to re­ly on bend­ing acrylic in a re­al­ly clever way) plus a scroll­wheel. It’s slick, slick, slick; and looks neat. I bought the Alu­minum mod­el but now that I re­alise there’s a white ver­sion too I think that would look bet­ter. On top of look­ing nice, the scroll­wheel is the smoothest I’ve used. I’m kind of wor­ried how fast it’ll go through bat­ter­ies; I’ll re­port back when I know. [Up­date: It turns out that the com­pa­ny be­hind this pro­duc­t, is, uh, con­tro­ver­sial.] [Up­date: As of mid-April, the mouse has sud­den­ly and silent­ly stopped work­ing. Sam­ple size of one, but stil­l...]
 
Not a Joke · Last week at that in­ter­nal tech sum­mit, the sub­ject of desk­top mul­ti­core com­put­ers came up. Marc Trem­blay said “If it’s Win­dows, one of the cores could be run­ning Nor­ton Antivirus.” Every­body laughed. But to­day I was read­ing PC Magazine’s re­view of the new Dell XPS which has the first mul­ti­core Xeon, and found this: One of the com­plaints we’ve heard from read­ers is that “protection” pro­gram­s, like Nor­ton In­ter­net Se­cu­ri­ty, are use­ful for safe­guard­ing their sys­tem­s. but slow their com­put­ers to a crawl. Dual-core Hyper-Threaded pro­ces­sors, such as the Pen­tium EE 840, can help, im­prov­ing your com­put­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause the processor’s du­al cores can pro­cess tasks si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly. While most of the sys­tem is “concentrating” on mak­ing sure your In­ter­net or gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is ful­filled in the fore­ground, the re­serve pow­er that the du­al cores pro­vide pro­tects you in the back­ground, run­ning Nor­ton or oth­er an­tivirus or fire­wall pro­gram­s. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
 
800x600x42" · My Pow­erBook screen has sud­den­ly and with­out warn­ing frapped out. This is dis­turb­ing as I have some short-term de­liv­er­ables, like Mon­day. Out­board screens work, so I’m OK at the of­fice, but my DVI-to-VGA don­gle is out on loan, so at home I’m re­duced to us­ing the on­ly DVI de­vice, name­ly the 42-inch Hi­tachi plas­ma TV. Which will on­ly run 800x600, and that stre-e-e-tched, it’d re­al­ly be hap­pi­er at 600x1024 or there­about­s. So on the down­sid­e, I have about 2.9 mil­lion few­er pix­els to work with. On the up­side, I’m sit­ting on a soft so­fa look­ing up at a nice big screen across the room, no glass­es re­quired. If the price of LCD tech re­al­ly falls as fast as they’re say­ing it will, maybe even­tu­al­ly we’ll all be us­ing big wall-size mon­i­tors from across the room.
 
Canon i9900 · We’ve spent quite a few bucks this last cou­ple of years with one photo-finisher or an­oth­er, and re­cent­ly Lauren’s been cook­ing up busi­ness ideas around pho­tog­ra­phy. So she went out and got a Canon i9900 and I got my hands on it first; wow! It’ll prob­a­bly end up plugged in­to one of the fixed ma­chines but we didn’t have the right ca­ble, so I FireWired it in­to my Mac (gr­r, had to re­boot to in­stall the driver) and ran one or two of my fa­vorite prints at 300d­pi and well, my good­ness gra­cious, they look just like what comes back from the on­line print ser­vice, on­ly bet­ter. I’m sure that a fine pro­fes­sion­al photo-finisher who puts their soul in­to their work can do bet­ter, but that’s not what I’m get­ting when I up­load my JPEGs to one mass-market printshop or an­oth­er. And there’s lots of playing-around to do with DPI and pa­per fin­ish­es and colour spaces and so on. I as­sume that, things be­ing what they are, the com­pe­ti­tion is about as good too, which is very good in­deed.
 
Canon Upgrade and Eulogy · My beloved Canon S50 has not been do­ing that well. It takes pret­ty good pic­tures, but it’s been dropped and whacked a few too many times (my fault) and has been in the shop twice for a prob­lem which just now re­curred, here in Wash­ing­ton at XML2004. Over at DPR, they’ve re­viewed two gen­er­a­tions of S50 suc­ces­sor (S60 and S70, how imag­i­na­tive), all very pos­i­tive­ly, and a close read­ing re­veals that the things Canon had changed are ex­act­ly the ones that had been ir­ri­tat­ing in the S50. So rather than fix­ing the S50, I es­caped the con­fer­ence for a bit—ah, balmy sun­ny DC au­tumn day—and got an S70. Lighter, stronger, thin­ner, bet­ter lens, can re-use the old flash­card and bat­tery so now I have two. Very nice. Plus, prices haven’t ad­just­ed in Cana­da to the re­cent steep climb in our dol­lar, so I prob­a­bly saved $50 or bet­ter by buy­ing down here, even af­ter I pay the sales tax at the bor­der. By way of eu­lo­gy for the S50, here are three re­cent na­ture ab­stract­s; ev­i­dence that a lit­tle wee pock­et cam­er­a, when the pho­tog­ra­pher gets luck­y, can hold its head up unashamed in the com­pa­ny of ti­tan­ic cam­eras three times its size and ten times its price ...
 
Hardwear · I bought my cur­rent lap­top four­teen months ago. At the time I wrote “I sure hope it holds up better,” and in­deed it’s do­ing bet­ter than the flim­sy, frag­ile, TiBook did, but it’s not that great. Here­with some sug­ges­tions for how Mac­in­tosh lap­tops could be made bet­ter ...
 
Geophony · I’m gin­ger­ly ex­plor­ing video... this week­end I added a Sony ECM-MS908C mi­cro­phone to my Canon DV cam­er­a. Here­with a re­port and thoughts on which way the me­dia are go­ing. Warn­ing: con­tains a 54-second 8-meg Quick­time rock video (but I did fig­ure out how to keep the video from auto-starting) ...
 
Goodies From the Family · I had a birth­day a few days ago and the fam­i­ly was re­al good to me. A gen­uine­ly fun­ny e-card from my mother-in-law (pret­ty good), an ob­scure DVD from the kid (quite good), and from my Mom, Jane Jacobs’ Dark Age Com­ing, high­ly lit­er­ate doom­say­ing but, dig this, it came from Ama­zon. My Mom us­es Ama­zon, is that cool or what? Then Lau­ren gave me a beau­ti­ful bird pic­ture and—best of all—a pair of Shure 3C’s, the ul­tra­mod­ern way-in-your-ear head­phones. This mo­ti­vat­ed me to go rip a cou­ple of CDs with the new Ap­ple loss­less en­cod­ing; first to hand were Steve Earle’s Train a Comin’ and the k.d.lang/Tony Ben­nett Won­der­ful World col­lab­o­ra­tion. I’m writ­ing this at 33,000 feet on the Air­bus from Van­cou­ver to San Fran, and I hear no air­plane, just Steve and the band; raspy heart­felt har­mo­ny and sweet swing­ing strings, so tight they’re loose. (To ev­ery­one: Lossy com­pres­sion of mu­sic is van­dal­is­m, i.e. MP3 is so over.) And I think to my­self... what a won­der­ful world.
 
Ultimate Digicam · On the ev­i­dence, as of to­day that would be the Canon EOS-1D Mark II, and for a mere US$4,500.00. Kin­da ug­ly, though.
 
Ugly, Why? · I took a minute and looked up Vonage’s Mo­toro­la box that I was wrestling with yes­ter­day. I was think­ing “boy, that’s an ug­ly box” and then “that’s an ug­ly web page too.” But the prob­lem is big­ger ...
 
Really Fast Camera · This is com­plete­ly, ut­ter­ly ridicu­lous. But oh, that colour (drool­s).
 
*ist D · No, that ti­tle isn’t a mis­print, it’s the name some trans-Pacific Lost-In-Translation sce­nario con­ferred on the Pen­tax Dig­i­tal SLR we just got. Some notes on the new world of Dig­i­tal SLRs ...
 
On Digicams · The digital-camera world is in mo­tion and there’s a lot of in­ter­est­ing stuff out there to read. Here­with a quick sum­ma­ry of the state of play, with point­er­s ...
 
3,397,120 Pixels · I got my first piece of Sun hard­ware to­day, a 24.1-Inch Flat Panel Mon­i­tor. It runs at 1920x1200, and plugged in­to my 15" Pow­erBook whose screen is 1280x854, that gives me, well, a whole lot o’ pix­el­s. I haven’t re­al­ly fig­ured out how to use ’em all ef­fec­tive­ly just yet, but it’s a nice prob­lem to have. Mind you, when I lean back at my chair and look up at this hork­ing thing, it oc­curs to me to say “On-screen!” in a clipped English ac­cent and see if I can get the cap­tain of that Ro­mu­lan War­bird up there.
 
Wireless Keyboard · I picked up one of the Ap­ple Blue­tooth mod­els and let me tell you, this is one slick pro­duc­t. A lit­tle bit more fuss & both­er to get go­ing the first time than a typ­i­cal wire­less that talks to a USB don­gle, but once you’ve got it go­ing, it’s your typ­i­cal Mac­in­tosh “turn it on and it works” ex­pe­ri­ence. I re­al­ly like my Pow­erBook, but hav­ing those ex­tra keys (home, end, page-up, page-down, all the usu­al stuff) just makes ev­ery­thing go faster and bet­ter. St­ingy on desk-space too. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed. But, you know, Ap­ple could eas­i­ly fit a few more keys on top of this great big honkin’ lap­top.
 
M.C.G. Seat Installation · M.C.G. is short for Mel­bourne Crick­et Ground, which is to crick­et some­thing like Yan­kee Sta­di­um is to base­bal­l. I want there to watch some crick­et, but it got rained out an over and a bit af­ter we got there (saw one LBW on a vi­cious fast bal­l). The M.C.G.’s un­der con­struc­tion and I found out how they put the seats in sta­di­um­s. (Warn­ing: con­tains 6M Quick­Time movie) ...
 
Black and Blue · Lau­ren re­cent­ly bought a nice IBM lap­top, and I raised my eye­brows when I found out she’d bun­dled in a mouse and some oth­er ac­ces­sories. I hadn’t thought of IBM as a lead­er in mouse tech­nol­o­gy, but I was wrong ...
 
Laptop Pricing · I just or­dered a new 15-inch Power­book (my cur­rent spec­i­men is not what once was), the high-end mod­el (DVD writer, back­lit keys, 1.25Ghz) with the mem­o­ry pumped up to a gig. In­ter­est­ing­ly, it end­ed up cost­ing al­most ex­act­ly the same as Lau­ren paid for hers a cou­ple of months ago. The Mac is a bit more heav­i­ly con­fig­ured, so I was kind of sur­prised, since Ap­ples have a rep­u­ta­tion for a pre­mi­um price. The ex­pla­na­tion has three part­s: first, IBM is not the cheap­est ven­dor of Win­tel box­es. Se­cond, she got the thin-and-light mod­el, and lap­tops have a weight func­tion that looks some­thing like $-1,000/lb. Fi­nal­ly, the Cana­di­an dol­lar keeps drift­ing up, so im­ports get cheap­er. Another way to look at it is, Mac­in­tosh­es are gen­er­al­ly price-competitive.
 
Laptop Fun · Lau­ren needs a new lap­top. She in­her­it­ed my 1998-vintage Toshi­ba Portegé when I switched to MacLand way back last April, and it’s re­al­ly past its best-before date (e.g. it’s now an “oshiba”). The take-away is that the lap­top ven­dors of the world are in a vast con­spir­a­cy to keep you from find­ing out about their prod­uct­s, and once you do find out, to keep you from get­ting one. And she still doesn’t have one ...
 
Practical Digital Camera Repair · With a Sibelius-fueled side-epiphany ...
 
It’s Bad · Pa­tience ran out. I picked up a Canon Pow­erShot S50, and the SataniCam­era of yore will be tak­ing its well-deserved place on the trash-heap of his­to­ry, an ex­tend­ed hang­over from a big night out in Tokyo. Here­with ini­tial im­pres­sion­s, a cou­ple of tech notes, and one sur­pris­ing pic­ture ...
 
On Reading Glasses · If you're get­ting in­to mid­dle age and you no­tice that you need brighter and brighter lights to read the news­pa­per, and as for the tiny print on the side of medicine bot­tles, well for­get it, you may be en­ter­ing glass­es ter­ri­to­ry. Here­with some prac­ti­cal ad­vice on how not to waste a lot of mon­ey ...
 
Bye-bye Concorde · Every news or­ga­ni­za­tion in the world has cov­ered this, but I re­mem­ber see­ing one of the first Con­corde flight­s, one of them went on a world tour be­fore com­mer­cial flights start­ed, flew low over my home town, I was amazed, it's a po­em poured in­to met­al. Al­so an en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter and (they say) an un­com­fort­able trav­el ex­pe­ri­ence. But beau­ti­ful; I poked around and found a nice pic­ture ...
 
SF-200 Slide Feeder · A pre­vi­ous en­try re­port­ed on the ac­qui­si­tion of a Nikon CoolS­can 4000 ED 35mm slide scan­ner; this is on the ad­di­tion of an SF-200 slide feed­er ...
 
Heavy Pixel Lifting · So, as a (strict­ly am­a­teur) long-time pho­to wee­nie, I have a re­al­ly fierce lega­cy prob­lem, and I sus­pect oth­ers must as well, so this is go­ing to be a number-filled digipho­to­geek tech-out re­lieved on­ly by a few (warn­ing: BIG) pret­ty pic­tures and at the very end, a tech­nol­o­gy in­vest­ment hin­t ...
 
Product Management Screw-up at Apple · So Ap­ple is ship­ping this huge, un­wield­y, ex­pen­sive mon­ster note­book, and a small­er, lighter, cheap­er 12" box. The small­er note­book has been get­ting some bad re­views as hav­ing a low-quality LCD screen and be­ing some­what un­der­con­fig­ured ...
 
Current Camera: Fuji Finepix F401 · I've had a cam­era al­most al­ways since I was a lit­tle kid; my Dad was a fine and pro­lif­ic pho­tog­ra­pher. Got the first digi­cam in 1998, a 640x480 Fu­ji­film, and this F401 in Tokyo in late 2002. I'm not that hap­py with it ...
 
Extended Test Drive · What hap­pened was, my New Zealan­der mother-in-law bought a farm in Eastern Saskatchewan. Since my own moth­er lives a rel­a­tive­ly ur­ban ex­is­tence in Regi­na (Saskatchewan's cap­i­tal), and we live in Van­cou­ver, and we took de­liv­ery of a brand-new Au­di A4 Avant (3.0l en­gine, 6-speed, most op­tion­s) on De­cem­ber 14th, it seemed ob­vi­ous that we should load the fam­i­ly in­to the wag­on and vis­it our moth­ers two time-zones away for Christ­mas ...
 
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