· · Gadgets
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 ... [42 comments]
· 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. [4 comments]
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. [2 comments]
· 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. [4 comments]
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 ... [13 comments]
· 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 ... [8 comments]
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 ... [13 comments]
· 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.]
· 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.
· 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.
· 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 ...
· 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 ...
· 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.
· 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 ...
· 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 ...
· 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.
· 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 ...
· 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.
· 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 ...
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 ...
· 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 ...
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 ...
By Tim Bray
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