Wednesday, December 26, 2007

HotBook Pro

I think I noted before that I've only ever heard the fans in my MacBook Pro spin up once or twice under high load. Otherwise, it seems about as quiet as my old PowerBook G4. Yesterday, reading mail while watching television, with the MacBook Pro on my lap, it seemed to be really cooking. Really cooking—the case was hot on the undersurface, and at the rear on the top, near the display hinge. I had felt it heat up before, but predictably, under load. I wasn't really doing anything, yet iStat pro was reporting a CPU temperature over 70ÂșC. This seemed ridiculously high.

/usr/bin/top was unhelpful: top itself was the highest CPU user at about 4 or 5%. I got distracted for a while by Google: "macbook pro cpu temperature" yields some 143,000 links to people obsessing over this very problem. I briefly checked out smcFanControl, which I used to at least ramp up the fans past 2,000 RPM while I sorted out the cause of the problem. What I did discover was OS X's Activity Monitor. Evidently it's a better top than top:
CPU thrashing
See all that colour under "CPU Usage"? That's bad. Whatever DirectoryService was doing there, it stopped after a reboot. And my CPU is now running in the low 40s.

Changing hostname

I remember it took me an age to work out how to permanently change my PowerBook's hostname under Tiger—if I recall correctly, it ended up requiring Netinfo Manager. Leopard killed Netinfo Manager, so it took me another age to work out how to permanently change my MacBook Pro's hostname under Leopard. For the record, and I'm not making this up, you need to open System Preferences, and change Internet & Network > Sharing > Computer Name. Sure, makes sense when you've found it, but why not just dump /bin/hostname? It doesn't work.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Two issues with Cover Flow in Finder

I like Cover Flow in the Leopard Finder way more than I thought I would. (For one thing, it's enabled me to conclude that I have some crap in ~/Documents.) That said, it exhibits at least two problems:
  1. I have a registered copy of Pages on the system, and yet Cover Flow can't provide me with a preview of the document (nor can Quick Look, for that matter):
    pages-icon.png
  2. What's up with the resolution of some of the icons? The Pages document icon above scales up really well, even beyond the fairly large size at which I took that screenshot. Others, including those for Apple applications such as Safari, really don't fare too well:
    safari-icon.png

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Mail: insane contextual menus

I once wrote that “overwhelming choice is, uh, overwhelming”. At the time I was referring to purchasing a PC. Today I repeat that observation with respect to Ctrl-clicking on a HTML file attachment and selecting "Open With" in Apple Mail 3.1:
Crazy Mail Context Menu

Friday, November 30, 2007

Apple Mail, Courier IMAP redeemed

About a year ago, I wrote about Apple Mail's infuriating habit of falling "offline" when reading mail over IMAP. I've been running the Courier IMAP mailserver on FreeBSD for years, and there's been quite a bit written about Mail not co-operating too well with it. I suppose I went as far as blaming Mail in my previous post, and others have blamed Courier IMAP. On a whim last night, I did two things: upgraded Courier IMAP to 4.2.1,1 (not the latest version, but the latest FreeBSD Port), and increased the MAXPERIP configuration variable (which controls how many simultaneous connections can be made to the IMAP server from a single host) to 20, from the default of 4. Mail and Courier IMAP now Just Work. (Well, Mail hasn't gone "offline" in about 24 hours.) I can't be sure, but I suspect that increasing MAXPERIP alone would have been sufficient.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Leopard Help: borderline unusable

I am by no means the first person to notice this, but Leopard's application "Help" windows are extremely annoying: they are orphaned (they don't show up as an application when cycling with Alt-Tab like they used to), and that doesn't matter anyway because they are stuck to the front of the stack. So I find myself right now trying to read the help for Dashcode, and yet the help window itself is obstructing me from using the very help it provides because it won't move out of the way. I have to minimise it to the Dock to use the application between reading sections of it. Ridiculous.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Spaces is broken

The idea behind Leopard's Spaces feature, while by no means new (according to Wikipedia, 1985 called...) is certainly a good one. Unfortunately, Apple's implementation of virtual desktops is broken. Here's a single, reproducible example:
  1. Ensure Spaces is enabled.
  2. Open Mail.
  3. Open Mail's ‘Activity’ window (Window > Activity).
  4. Move the main Mail window to a different space, leaving the Activity window where it was opened. (Hit F8, and drag the main Mail window somewhere else.)
  5. Open something else in the space where Mail's main window now sits—say, a Finder window.
  6. Hit Alt-Tab and select the Mail application—recall that Mail's main window is right behind whatever you opened in step 5, and note where Spaces sends you.
You got it—you're sent to the Activity window's space, completely ignoring Mail's main window sitting right behind your uppermost window. While this might be occasionally what the user intended, I can't see how it could be commonly or usually what the user intended.

Henry Story describes how Spaces is "not designed around a person's work habits, but around software components." His article pretty much nails it.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

MacBook Pro problems not "fixed in Leopard"

I've been having ongoing problems with my brand new MacBook Pro. Specifically, I had been hoping that the following two problems would be "fixed in Leopard":
  1. The entire display will occasionally lock up, and input is ignored from mouse and keyboard. Others have reported that their machines still respond to network login requests, so presumably it's UI-subsystem-related. It has been speculated that the driver for the GeForce 8600M GT cards is faulty, but I don't know if this is correct. It was not fixed in Leopard—it has happened at least twice since I upgraded the machine last week.
  2. Keypresses are sporadically ignored for no good reason. I seem to find myself constantly going back to repair sentences with missing letters. I'm not an expert typist, but I'm not that bad either. This problem was not fixed in Leopard.
As I noted previously, I am clearly a fully-fledged Mac fanboy now, in that I have had this machine for a month and haven't returned it yet. Problem is, the downtime (which would presumably extend into several days or longer) would be an enormous productivity hit for me. I've contacted Next Byte at Glenunga (point of purchase, and Apple Service Centre), and they claim to be unaware of either issue in MacBook Pros. (I'm at least slightly incredulous of that claim—both problems seem pretty widely reported on the web.) My thinking was that if they knew about the problems, presumably days could be saved in reproducing and diagnosing them, and working on a fix, and I'd be willing to take it in. Given that they don't, I'm at somewhat of a loss for a plan. In any case, I need the machine for a project this weekend, so I'll start thinking about it again next week.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

MacBook Pro: second impressions

I've now had a 17" MacBook Pro for two weeks. In a post about my first impressions, I noted some preliminary issues. Here are some updates on those.
I purchased the MacBook Pro at a somewhat unfortunate time: Leopard has now just been announced as shipping on October 26. Daring Fireball seems to be claiming that Apple (in the US, at least) will provide free upgrades for machines purchased on or after October 1. It will be interesting to see if this applies in Australia.
It certainly does apply in Australia. I've pre-ordered my copy of Leopard for $A 12.95, the shipping fee.
The display completely froze, and the machine became unresponsive (at least to the keyboard and mouse—it would be interesting to try to contact it over the LAN) on two occasions now. I was doing nothing in particular at the time. I need to do some Google work on this, but if it happens too many more times (for some value of "too many"), it's going back.
This has happened on at least two more occasions. The following entry seems to be logged in /var/log/system.log at the time of the lock-ups:
Oct 24 14:37:53 ralph kernel[0]: NVChannel(GL): Graphics channel timeout!
Google tells me that it's a widely reported problem with GeForce 8600M GT cards. There also seem to be some very vague suggestions that it's driver related, and that it will be "fixed in Leopard". Given that the alternative is to return a two-week-old machine to the store, I'm prepared to wait and see what happens with Leopard.
There have been two or three episodes of what one might call "sleep-wake confusion". For example, I've closed the lid, and I can see the display is still on. Or, I'll open the lid, and the display stays blank and the front indicator light keeps flashing as if it's still asleep. It will usually recover, but once it required a power-cycle. Again, I'm going to have a low threshold for return if this continues.
This hasn't happened again. Evidently I have to win sometimes.
The keyboard seems subtly different in ways I can't quite describe, but I keep missing keys, and some seem a little sticky. To be honest, I pretty much hated the PowerBook's keyboard when I first got it. Hopefully I'll break this one in.
Steve pointed out in comments that this might not be down to my poor typing, and that it, too, was a widely-reported problem. I am consistently getting random dropping of keypresses. Adjusting the key repeat speed and delay had little effect, though checking "Ignore accidental trackpad input", as suggested somewhere on the web, has improved the phenomenon slightly, but has the side-effect of making the trackpad less responsive. Again, I'll wait and see whether Leopard improves this at all.

To be honest, if this was my first Mac, I'd be horribly disappointed. The two outstanding hardware problems described above are not just minor glitches, they're significant problems that are impacting on the usability of the machine. There are at least two major difficulties with returning it to the store:
  1. The display freezes are very intermittent. While a few minutes worth of typing should be sufficient to demonstrate the problem with dropped keypresses, the display problem might not be replicated for days, if at all. Convincing the technician there's a problem might not even be possible.
  2. I've become such a laptop junkie that even a couple of days without it would be an enormous productivity hit for me. I just don't use a desktop for anything anymore.
Of course, it's not my first Mac, and now that I'm a fully-fledged fanboy, I think solutions like "wait and see if it's fixed in Leopard" sound reasonable in comparison to "return the faulty hardware". What a sucker I've become.

PowerBook follow-up

As mentioned over a week ago, and then promptly ignored by me, there's a post script to the story about my PowerBook G4. It's not dead. The disk isn't even dead. It's back in my office, admittedly not doing much, kind of sulking at being shunned for the faster, slicker MacBook Pro, but it's working. Apparently, although the problem was originally replicated (the machine would not boot for the technician), it spontaneously started working again. The technician "walked off to get a cable" (presumably to try booting it from an external disk), and on his return the PowerBook was showing its login screen. It booted five more times for him, and it booted again when I got it home. I have no doubt it still contains a fairly sick disk, but it's alive for now.

There's even more good news. Next Byte Glenunga refunded the entire $75 diagnostic fee. Frankly, I was not expecting this. Clearly, neither were the staff in their retail section on a Saturday morning, as actually getting the $75 took upwards of 15 minutes. The whole place seemed to be staffed by work experience kids during what must be one of the week's busiest time slots. The rate-limiting step for my transaction seemed to be finding someone who knew how to operate the EFTPOS machine.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

MacBook Pro: first impressions

As predicted last week, I bought a 17" MacBook Pro when I dropped my PowerBook G4 in for repairs. I've had it for almost a week, so I am ready to make some observations about my first impressions.

Physically, and although I don't have them side-by-side at the moment, they're pretty similar. The MacBook Pro certainly slips straight into the same carry bag I was using for the PowerBook, for example. There are some nice improvements:
  • The MagSafe power connector on the MacBook Pro is brilliant. I never quite tripped over the PowerBook's cable and caused any damage, but I came close several times.
  • The built-in iSight camera is hardly a necessity, but it's nice to have. Everyone who walks by the MacBook Pro, for example, gets a picture taken for their Address Book entry. Even cooler, I finally had a reason to purchase Delicious Library, and I've started scanning in my library. (I don't expect too many people to find that prospect as cool as I do.)
  • I opted for the standard 17" display (matte, 1680 x 1050 pixels), and there's noticeably more screen real estate compared to the PowerBook's 1440 x 900 (if I recall those dimensions correctly—it's still at the shop). I've had to increase the default font size on more than one application.
As it turns out, although I had little choice given my PowerBook had died, at least temporarily, I purchased the MacBook Pro at a somewhat unfortunate time: Leopard has now just been announced as shipping on October 26. Daring Fireball seems to be claiming that Apple (in the US, at least) will provide free upgrades for machines purchased on or after October 1. It will be interesting to see if this applies in Australia.

The new machine shipped with iLife '08. I make some use of iMovie for importing and editing HDV video, so it will be interesting to see how this compares to iMovie HD '06. There have apparently been good and bad reviews. It also ships with some trial versions of various software:
  • iWork '08, including Numbers. With an application that can open Microsoft Excel documents, I should finally be able to dump Microsoft Office once and for all.
  • Microsoft Office—I suspect I'll be uninstalling this real soon now.
  • Aperture. I had a brief look at Adobe Photoshop Lightroom when it was in public beta. I liked it, but never had an opportunity to try out Aperture. I suspect that since Apple has pre-installed a fully-functional 30-day trial version, I'll be hooked by the end of the month and end up buying Aperture. Bad luck Adobe.
I'll quickly make a kind of orphaned observation which is neither positive nor negative: the fan (when it ramps up, and it's only done so doing some RAW image processing with Aperture) is louder. I presume the Intel CPU just runs hotter than the PowerPC.

I've already accumulated a few negatives, and they're potentially big ones. I sensibly opted for the extended warranty plan this time.
  • The display completely froze, and the machine became unresponsive (at least to the keyboard and mouse—it would be interesting to try to contact it over the LAN) on two occasions now. I was doing nothing in particular at the time. I need to do some Google work on this, but if it happens too many more times (for some value of "too many"), it's going back.
  • There have been two or three episodes of what one might call "sleep-wake confusion". For example, I've closed the lid, and I can see the display is still on. Or, I'll open the lid, and the display stays blank and the front indicator light keeps flashing as if it's still asleep. It will usually recover, but once it required a power-cycle. Again, I'm going to have a low threshold for return if this continues.
  • The keyboard seems subtly different in ways I can't quite describe, but I keep missing keys, and some seem a little sticky. To be honest, I pretty much hated the PowerBook's keyboard when I first got it. Hopefully I'll break this one in.
The PowerBook's demise has an interesting post-script, which I'll get to in another post.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Sure, I've got a backup. No, really."

I still can't quite believe how this turned out.

Three days ago, I was heading off to work, but wanted to load up a document in Pages before I left. I launched Pages from the Dock, but it only got as far as bouncing the icon. The PowerBook seemed to freeze up, and, out of time, I shut the lid and went to work, albeit somewhat worried. When I got home, I opened the lid, and Pages was there. Disconcerting, but I was willing to write it off to the kind of "general slowness" one observes with a two-and-a-half year old machine—the disk is slowly filling up, it stays up for two weeks at a time, and there are perpetually two users logged in, each with a handful of applications permanently open. It's been noticably non-snappy for a while.

The iCal incident later the same day, which I described in another post, apparently tipped me over the threshold for taking it seriously. The following day, I dusted off the 250G external USB hard disk which I bought almost a year ago, and followed Jamie Zawinski's advice for doing a backup with rsync.

A day and a half later, it was this morning. The PowerBook froze up again, and the disk was making some audible "I'm sorry about this, but, uh, I'm about to die"-type noises. I power-cycled the machine, and it wouldn't boot. Dead disk. Well, dead disk with a backup that's a mere 36 hours out of date.

This afternoon, I'm going to see about replacing the disk in the PowerBook, but, more interestingly, I think I'll take the opportunity to upgrade to a new 17" MacBook Pro. I'll let you know how that goes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

This just in: iCal still sucks

Almost a year to the day after the last episode, iCal ate my calendars again. The symptoms were exactly the same: iCal loads up completely blank, yet the calendar data is obviously still in there somewhere, because doing a database backup produced a directory containing about 2.5M of data. Running restore on that backup didn't work: iCal just stalled claiming the restore was in progress. I aborted it after about 10 minutes of spinning. As noted previously, deleting ~/Library/Application Support/iCal solves the problem. iCal opened up blank, and after a few minutes restored my data. (I still don't know why this works.)

Friday, August 31, 2007

A few things iPod

  1. My (now old and terribly boring) 60G colour iPod has recently started ordering lists differently. Specifically, while numbers previously preceded letters, it now does the reverse. I swear, for example, that "1977" by Ash used to be towards the top of my Albums list, whereas it's now right down the bottom. I assume this is the result of the last iTunes update.
  2. Last week, I once again trod on my second set of replacement headphones. (Dropping them on the floor at night seems so convenient at the time.) Although I am somewhat of an expert at repair-by-superglue, they were hosed—I finally squashed something internal and it no longer reproduced sound. The semi-interesting part is this: standard iPod headphones seem ridiculously hard to find in Adelaide. It took visits to three stores. I didn't want headphones on a lanyard. I had already bought headphones with the remote control plug-in last time I broke my headphones. I would have thought plain old iPod headphones were one of the more popular items. And, for the record, they cost $A 48. Ouch.
  3. I tried out the iTunes Store's "Complete My Album" feature. I had purchased a single ("Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors" by Editors), and later decided I wanted the album ("An End Has a Start"), so I upgraded from the single. Initially I thought it was curious that the single didn't join the album—I expected to now have just one entry under Editors for albums, but in fact I have two. One is the LP without the single, and the other is the single. I could manually merge the single into the album using iTunes, I suppose, but I've decided I like it the way it is. After all, I really did buy that single. I just didn't want to pay for it again when I bought the album, so it gets excluded. I think that's the right way to do it. And, as others have noted, it's also about time it was possible to purchase music this way.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Upgrading a Mac Pro's memory

This is another one of those "Dear Lazyweb" posts. I'm still thinking about buying a Mac Pro. I think the word "reams" in the following sentence is fairly uncontroversial: Apple reams its customers on RAM. (Apologists note: I know it's cutting edge RAM. I know it has special heat sinks. It's still expensive.) Is it feasible (in Australia) to buy a Mac Pro with the base 1G of RAM, then buy 4G or 8G of third party RAM from, say, Kingston who seem to have a product specifically for the Mac Pro? Can I open a Mac Pro with tools available in this galaxy? Would I be asking for trouble if I made a warranty claim (extended or otherwise) and send in my Mac Pro containing non-Apple-sourced RAM?

Hewlett Packard: the shame

Here's the punchline first: in what universe is it still acceptable, in 2007, for printer and scanner manufacturers to bundle their products with monolithic installers whose only goal in life is to litter my hard drive with piles of bloatware spread over literally hundreds of files? Now, on to the story.

A Hewlett Packard LaserJet 3055 All-in-One appeared at work. (Actually, that kind of makes it sound like I stole it—my boss bought it, it's in his office, and on the LAN.) I took the installer CD labeled "Macintosh", and set about getting this printer up and ready for printing from my PowerBook. (Smarter readers will note right here that there's already a problem with my approach. Hint: Installer CD? It should just work.)

Now, I've moaned before about monolithic installers and unwanted bloatware. Today, Hewlett Packard took both concepts to a new level. Let me enumerate the problems with the installer for the 3055:
  1. At the risk of repeating myself, who doesn't offer drag and drop installation under Mac OS X in 2007? Hewlett Packard, obviously.
    HP LaserJet 3055 installer
  2. After accepting the license agreement, the first thing the installer did without warning was, and I am not making this up, close down every application I had open. Seriously, without warning.
  3. I was hoping to get away with the absolute bare minimum install—maybe a printer driver and perhaps a couple of branded, rubbish applications. The device isn't in my office, so I won't be doing too much scanning or faxing. I just want to print stuff. You might recall that when I bought my CanoScan flatbed scanner, the single redeeming feature of their monolithic installer was that it let you pare down the default choices to something more sensible. Evidently Hewlett Packard is going for a bloatware record, and I'm part of the attempt. The next piece of information the installer gave me (and it wasn't giving me much) was that there were over 700 files remaining to install. Excellent.
  4. Fortunately, at this point, the installer decided it needed to know precisely which model of all-in-one I had, so it stopped cold and popped up a dialog. I'll take this is a mixed blessing—ridiculous, because if it makes a significant difference, they should be packing different installers on different CDs with their different models, but very welcome because it paused the installer before it vomited all over my disk.
  5. As a final defiant gesture, the installer refused to quit from its menu (Quit was an active choice, it just didn't do anything), and I had to Force Quit using the Finder. Outstanding.

I emerged unscathed (well, not mentally) from my encounter with Hewlett Packard and VISE X 3.0:
VISE X: crap installers
To be honest, I don't blame MindVision Software. Writing rubbish software for a rubbish platform is their job, and I'm sure they're good at it. But I do blame Hewlett Packard for taking what I can only presume is the easy way out. They make great hardware, but the associated software still lets them down year after year.

As I mentioned above, astute readers will have been shaking their heads disapprovingly from the second paragraph: I'm using a Mac. It should just work. Indeed, it did—I just never bothered to check.
HP 3055: found
After two years, I remain an absolute Mac novice.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Apple Mail sounds disappear

Has anyone else noticed this? After using Apple Mail for some period of time (somewhere between hours and days), the sound effects (e.g., the "swoosh" sound after sending a mail) disappear. My Mail is silent. Quitting and restarting Mail brings the sounds back.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

iTunes Store redeemed

An email in my inbox a couple of days ago heralded a surprising end to the iTunes Store audiobook debacle described in my previous post. It seems that Apple solved the faulty audiobook problem. (As an aside, I read elsewhere that "The god delusion" by Richard Dawkins was affected by the same problem as Hitchens—I'd love to think it was a theistic conspiracy.) All I had to do was update to iTunes 7.2.35. Apple had put the audiobook back in my download queue at no charge, and threw in four free songs as well. That's a big win for customer service.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

iTunes Store audiobook debacle

If I hadn't already said goodbye to Audible.com, I'd be saying goodbye to audiobooks from the iTunes Store in this post. Early last month, I purchased "God is not great: how religion poisons everything" by Christopher Hitchens as an audiobook from the iTunes Store. It cost $A 36.99. I downloaded all four parts, and synced them to my iPod. None of the parts would play. More specifically:
  • All four parts would play in iTunes on my PC.
  • All four parts transferred to my iPod, metadata and cover art intact.
  • On pressing play on the iPod, each part behaved exactly the same way: a brief disk access was followed by the iPod returning to its main menu without playing a sound.
Disappointed, I lodged a problem report via the iTunes Store interface in iTunes, and went to bed. I never got an email confirmation of that original problem report, nor did it ever receive a response.

Without a response from Apple, I tried to troubleshoot the issue myself, and started at the seemingly appropriately-titled "Troubleshooting songs and audiobooks that won't play" page. I worked carefully through their algorithm. I deauthorised and reauthorised my computer. Multiple times. I tried recreating my iTunes library—this experience was special, because, without warning, and undocumented on that linked page, iTunes throws out some of your metadata during this process, including Play Count, and Last Played date. Playing fast and loose with user data seems to be a feature of Apple software.

Still without a response to my initial problem report, I began navigating the twisty maze that is Apple's corporatoid website: the feedback form is 4-clicks deep from the front page. On the form page I used at the time (it seems to have been corrected now), there was a very promising link about audiobooks on iTunes for Windows which points to a non-existent page. I related my woe in some detail to the form.

The support droids were stumped. They admitted defeat fairly quickly, which was about the only redeeming feature of our interaction: they had no idea why it wouldn't work, and couldn't add any suggestions beyond what I had tried. They credited my VISA card within a couple of days of my purchase. I guess that counts as a partial success for me, though I'd rather be listening to the audiobook.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Why does iTunes randomly "update" some tracks?

I connected my iPod to my PC for the first time in maybe a few weeks. I hadn't added anything to my iTunes Library—whenever I do that, I connect the iPod and sync. Despite this, iTunes decided it was necessary to "update" some 1,000 tracks (of about 3,600—not all of them) on the iPod. Why is this? The only thing I had done prior to this was update iTunes to 7.1.1.5. Does this really require the "updating" of a third of my music collection?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Fax

I have yet another entry for the No Doubt Everyone But Me Already Knew This file. (That file is getting quite large.) A handful of times since getting a PowerBook, I've thought to myself, "It would be neat to be able to fax something directly from this machine. Maybe I should look at getting a fax modem." Now, anyone with a PowerBook would know that there's a female RJ11 socket on one side of the machine (that is, a place to stick in a phone line). It even has a little telephone handset icon next to it. I've seen it before, though I can't remember what I thought it was for. Of course, what it's actually for is plugging in a phone line so that the internal fax modem can send faxes. I discovered this two days ago, thanks to Jamie Zawinski, who apparently discovered it himself last week.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mac Pro indecision

I'm still trying to buy a Mac Pro. Actually, that's not quite true—I'm still trying to decide to buy a Mac Pro. Last month, I asked whether there were new models likely to be released soon. Steve's comment was spot on:
Yes, new models are on the way. The dual core Xeons are being replaced with quad core, so the new models will have 8 cores instead of 4.

Not long after that, Apple did, indeed, release a quad-core Mac Pro. However, and here is the first source of my current problem, they didn't so much replace the existing models with quad-core variants, they tacked a quad-core model on at the high-end. And, as far as I can tell, the low-end models didn't move in price—the entry-level configuration still starts at $A 3,999. Now, I don't know what I should have been expecting, but I know what I would have liked: a new machine at the high-end (of a three model spectrum), with the models below it shuffling down a price-point, and perhaps the lowest-end model just disappearing. If that had happened, I suspect I'd be typing this on a Mac Pro right now.

Steve also wrote:
So I would wait before buying one. Have another look at the situation when 10.5 comes out.
That seemed like good advice at the time, because at the time 10.5 was coming out mid-2007. Now, Apple has pushed Leopard back to October [I can't find a likely permanent link to that announcement at the moment]. I suspect that's still good advice, but it doesn't help my ever-increasing desire to upgrade my ageing Pentium 4 running a very creaky Windows XP install.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Power supply finale

This topic really doesn't deserve another post, but this will be the last. I assume. The power supply problem reappeared yesterday morning. On the way home from work, I stopped by Next Byte. The machine at least had the common courtesy to demonstrate the problem when I was there. For $A 129 I walked away with a new power supply, and the problem is solved. I assume.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Daylight saving time: really not that hard

Here's a small data point: Mac OS X handled the switch from CDT (+1030) to CST (+0930) yesterday morning without manual intervention. Windows XP did not. (To be honest, I thought this was interesting not because I wouldn't expect Windows to fail to handle DST—I would—but because in previous years it has handled the change. Weird.)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mac Pro purchase imminent

Dear Lazyweb,

Last August, I wrote about what were then the new Mac Pros shipping, and, in particular, about a few lingering doubts I had that would prevent me from purchasing one. (Well, to be honest, what was preventing me from purchasing one last August was that I didn't have enough money. Now that I do, there are those lingering doubts.) I've distilled it down to two questions:
  1. Those first Mac Pros shipped seven months ago. I don't know that there have been any changes to the original models since then—are there any rumours about upcoming new models? Have I just missed the actual release of new models?
  2. Will Windows XP run to the hardware's full capabilities under Boot Camp? There were suggestions last August that it wouldn't. Has this been resolved?
They're the two show-stoppers for me: if new models are impending, and if a Mac Pro still won't run Windows XP properly.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A new scanner

Almost a year ago, I lamented that my HP ScanJet 2300c was not supported by OS X. I struggled with TWAIN SANE for OS X for a short while, and gave up, concluding that the whole saga just wasn't what Mac ownership was supposed to be all about. The ScanJet scanned faithfully (into its atrocious Windows-based software) for about another 10 months, and then recently died. (Well, it still scans things into quite a nice shade of blue, but that's not amusing for very long.) Yesterday, I needed to scan some documents, so I set about buying a new flat-bed scanner.

My first stop was Apple's Mac OS X Scanner Support page. I seem to recall that page (or one like it) offering a detailed list of supported hardware, but no more. Now:
Most flatbed and film scanners that use a FireWire (IEEE 1394) or USB connection work with Mac OS X. Mac OS X even offers built-in support -- no drivers or plug-ins necessary -- for many scanners using its Image Capture Architecture (ICA). Applications that directly support acquiring images from TWAIN devices, such as Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop, have access to any installed TWAIN Data Source (DS). The Image Capture application in Mac OS X, and programs such as iPhoto that access its capabilities, have access to any installed DS as well as native ICA drivers.

Sounds marvelous. I suspect that the more useful advice appears two paragraphs later, however:
Please check with the manufacturer of your device to find out about specific Mac compatibility.

My second stop was a nearby Officeworks store. It quickly became obvious that flat-bed, colour document scanners are a dying breed: everything's multi-function. While I could probably do with a fax machine, I certainly don't need a second laser printer, and I prefer devices that do one thing well anyway. (I don't use the camera in my mobile phone, and I don't store music on my Palm TX.) I simply couldn't find a single Hewlett-Packard ScanJet model of any description—have they stopped making them? In fact, the only standalone scanners were a couple of Canon's CanoScan range, about which I knew nothing. So, by this time well and truly over Officeworks' supermarket ambience, I left the store.

My third stop was (and uttering the name makes me shudder) Harvey Norman. The store was nearby, and I knew they sold peripherals. Again, I sought a ScanJet, and again I was disappointed. This store had two brands of standalone, flat-bed scanners, at least—Canon and Epson. (I actually asked a nearby sales-droid about HP ScanJet scanners. He seemed to indicate that they had some in recently, but had "sold out". He also thought they were "getting more in", and that they were expecting "new models". It also sounded like this was the response he gave to all similar questions.) Anyway, I was running out of interest in the whole project at this point, so I figured I would buy a low-end Canon model, since I owned a Canon camera and a Canon photo-printer. Maybe I'd win something if I completed a set.

Though momentarily distracted by the idea of buying a much larger and more expensive model that scanned 35mm negatives, I settled on the CanoScan LiDE 25 for two reasons: it was cheap, and I like catching myself just before making an impulse buy. It also had a nice OS X logo on the box. It cost $A 119.95.

Back home, I fired up the installer application on the supplied CD. It was woeful software. (Why, for the love of god, in 2007, would anyone be using roll-your-own installers instead of drag-and-drop installation, or the OS X installer?) It had a single redeeming feature: I could choose which of the six or seven components available I wanted to install. So I unchecked a few boxes and installed what I presume are the bare essentials.

To be fair, the "CanoScan Toolbox 4.9" software supplied is quite reasonable. It is launched on pressing one of the three buttons on the front of the scanner. If you supply it with information about the appropriate applications to call, it will do sensible things with each of the button presses: the first (Scan) scans the document, saves a JPG to disk, and opens it in Preview; the second (Copy) scans the document, saves a JPG to disk, and sends it to my LaserJet; and the third (Email) scans the document, saves a JPG to disk, opens Mail, starts a new email and inserts the JPG as an attachment. Neat.

The scanner itself is a little on the slow side. Doing a colour scan at the upper end of its resolution capability took well over a minute for an A4 page. Scaling that back a bit reduced the time to an acceptable 20-30 seconds, but I wouldn't want to be scanning multiple pages every day. On the upside, it's obviously a very low-power device, as it has no power adapter and draws power directly from USB. Nice.

Power supply: mysteriously working again

The day after claiming that my PowerBook's power supply was no longer charging the battery, I moved rooms, plugged it in again for a last check before taking it in for repairs, and, of course, it worked. And it's still working. So, although I certainly may have a faulty adapter or cable (or, worse, PowerBook), there's not a lot I can do about it now, as I'm super-reluctant to take it into the store when I can't replicate the problem. I may as well drop it off and say, "Please charge me for several hours of labour, and return the machine unchanged" since that is what would happen.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

More power supply woes

I wrote in January about some strange G4 PowerBook power supply behaviour. Unfortunately, the problem re-appeared at the weekend. Unlike last time, when rebooting the PowerBook fixed the problem, I haven't been able to get it working again, and I'm running out of ideas. I've tried resetting the power management unit, and I've run through Apple's troubleshooting algorithm. Hopefully I just need a new adapter. I'll take it in for repairs tomorrow.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

OCR in Preview

Maybe everyone knows this already, but it was news to me. Today I opened a PDF document in Preview. It contained a URL which I wanted to open in my browser. Unfortunately, the document was a full-page bitmap of a scanned paper page. This was obvious just by looking at the document, but my mousing hand went on autopilot. I told my hand, "Err, this is not going to work—it's a bitmap of a scanned page." "Yeah, I know," replied my hand, "but I can't stop myself trying." Oddly, the text was selectable. I copied it. I pasted it. A few characters were wrong, but it was a neat idea. A better quality scan would no doubt have helped. This:

http://www.apple.com/ilife/video/ilife04_32C.html

became this:

tttp: //www. apple. oom/ilife/videc/ilifeO432C.htm.l

Nice try. The URL was a 404 anyway.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Strange PowerBook G4 power supply behaviour

Something rather odd just happened with the power supply unit for my PowerBook G4. The machine had been out on the road for the day, and on returning home, I plugged it into the mains. The indicator light on the end of the cable didn't light, and the charging icon in the menu bar wasn't present. The battery wasn't being charged. I tried several power outlets with no joy. So I did what the Microsoft Windows user within would do: I rebooted the PowerBook and tried again. It worked.