Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sync conflict bingo

Here's a dialog that popped up this afternoon:
Sync conflict
While having the length of the data in question is undeniably handy, even better would have been the data itself, or perhaps an excerpt. I don't think I'm alone in not being able to make much of a GUID, a modification date, and a length. In the end, I went with the 978 bytes of data, given that the alternative was nothing.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Disconnecting a USB device shouldn't cause wake from sleep

I find this scenario annoying:
  1. Connect an iPod to a Mac. Sync.
  2. Hit the Eject icon for the iPod in iTunes.
  3. Leave the iPod physically connected to the Mac—it needs a charge.
  4. Put the Mac to sleep. Wait.
  5. Disconnect the iPod.
What happens next? The Mac wakes from sleep. Because I disconnected an ejected iPod. I cannot think of a use case for that behaviour.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

OmniFocus for iPhone (and iPod touch) Review

I've been using The Omni Group's OmniFocus on the desktop since it was in beta testing. I like it. For a to-do list manager, it's a complex application, but that's what I like about it. Some people can get by with a handful of linear lists, and that's great for them, but I can't—I need a more hierarchical structure. I like the metadata that OmniFocus can attach to a task, and in particular I like the idea of ‘contexts’—a concept borrowed from David Allen's Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. (I'm not a die-hard GTD fanboy, though I've read the book and many of his suggestions work for me.)

Omni released OmniFocus for iPhone (which also runs on the iPod touch) soon after the App Store opened. At the time, though, it required using a pre-release version of the desktop application to enable syncing of tasks between the two. I wasn't keen on letting beta software loose on my fairly substantial OmniFocus database, and given that syncing was pretty much the killer feature for the mobile version, I held out until just a few weeks ago when Omni released OmniFocus 1.5 for the desktop. By then, the iPhone/iPod version was up to 1.1, and I bought it.

I was initially quite impressed. It was a good looking application, with none of the immediately obvious complexity of the desktop version. Although I had the benefit of many months of getting used to OmniFocus's approach, the mobile version seemed intuitive. After a bit more use, I would say it has a really good subset of the features of the desktop application. Obviously there are limitations—as far as I can tell, for example, you can't make a recurring task on the mobile version—but Omni seems to have pared down to pretty much the right features. Walking around with basically my entire database in my pocket sure beats having to remember to print out lists of errands before I leave the house.

OmniFocus for iPhone has bugs.
  1. Within 24 hours, I had trouble with syncing—where by ‘trouble’ I mean that the iPod apparently couldn't sync with the data stored on MobileMe. It was terminal: I had to wipe the database stored on my iDisk, and start again from scratch on the iPod side. I sent in a bug report, and the Omni respondent was helpful enough, but could suggest little more than trying what I had already done. I moved to local WiFi syncing (which, in my opinion, is significantly less cool than being able to sync tasks over the wider Internet when you're out and about), and this worked for a further 24 hours before it failed in the same way. Having said all of that, I re-started syncing over MobileMe, and it has been working without issue since those first two hiccups. Further, I have literally just today updated to OmniFocus for iPhone 1.1.3, which claims that “OmniFocus is now able to repair disconnected root transactions (rather than simply reporting ‘no root can reach all tail transactions’)”, so maybe it's completely fixed.
  2. Just this morning, I entered a task into the Inbox. On saving, the screen blanked, though the bottom row of buttons were still displayed. So I hit the Home button, and the application crashed and terminated. On restarting, the entered task was present in the Inbox. Again, this has only happened once. Something like this was mentioned in the 1.1.1 update release notes. I thought I had installed that update, though I'm not completely sure. I'll give Omni the benefit of the doubt, and assume I didn't. After updating to 1.1.3 just now, I hope I won't see this again.


The problem with bugs like these is that they're really difficult to reproduce. Without updating the mobile version, for example, the syncing bug happened twice, then just stopped happening. While that makes it hard for developers to track down and fix the bug, it also makes it utterly demoralizing for customers reporting them. I bothered, but many wouldn't. I doubt I provided any useful information, other than an instance of it occurring. The response from Omni was next to useless (it couldn't be anything else), and everyone involved presumably feels pretty unhappy about it. I did. I think Omni has to answer for this kind of thing. By most accounts, syncing is a hard problem. But that doesn't justify having a go at it, and then releasing what you've done. Surely the syncing issue came up in their internal testing—it happened to me twice in 48 hours.

I think Omni make great applications. As well as OmniFocus, I own OmniGraffle. I think OmniFocus for iPhone has a lot of potential, but it feels like it was released in a rush. Omni has just released the fourth bug-fix update, and who knows whether that's killed all the major ones. At just under $A 24, I don't think this is acceptable. Surely Omni has the customer loyalty to delay a release like this until things are reasonably stable. In fact, the rushed feel of the release of the mobile version is in complete contrast to the desktop version, which stayed in beta for months on end before its 1.0 release. The very customer loyalty that allows them to prolong a development cycle like that is precisely what gets eroded by rushing a buggy product out the door.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Why is Apple Mail thrashing my CPU?

Earlier today, Apple Mail started doing this:
Mail thrashing CPU
And yet it's essentially idle—the Activity window shows Mail doing absolutely nothing. Mail still responds, and if I quit it and restart, it works fine for about half an hour. And then it starts again with the thrashing. I have no idea what it's doing. It looks like I'm not the only one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Parallels Desktop crashed my Mac Pro

I'll qualify the title shortly, but first let me recap. I've given Parallels Desktop a pretty decent chance. Only recently I wrote that I thought it had improved dramatically in the latest build. I've recommended it to friends, and they've purchased and installed it.

Yesterday, I was running Windows XP on a Parallels virtual machine on my quad-core Mac Pro, which has 4GB of RAM. It was smooth enough. I may have had as many as 20 other applications open (I generally just never quit applications—with 8 cores and 4 GB, why would I?), and then I logged my wife in as a second user. Then I launched a different Windows XP virtual machine in another instance of Parallels. As if that wasn't enough, she then launched some monolithic Java application inside that—and that's when it happened. According to Activity Monitor, the CPUs were doing essentially nothing, yet the whole user interface locked up. I couldn't even get Finder's Force Quit dialog up to kill Parallels. Finally, the disks stopped, and the mouse froze, and it was all over bar the power-cycling.

So while the title is true, I did happen to be punishing the machine a little at the time. I imagine it was a memory issue in the end. But, locking up to the point of requiring a power-cycle is a really poor failure mode. I think I'm over Parallels Desktop. I'm going to check out VMWare Fusion.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Time Machine: still failing

The highest-traffic page on Mac Me Up (with a hit count four times its closest rival) is “Time Machine: Backup failed with error: 11”, which I wrote just over nine months ago. In the interim, I bought a Time Capsule, and things have been going fairly smoothly. Until yesterday. A Time Machine backup failed on the Mac Pro, and I ran into my old friend Error 11.

The symptoms this time were different to those I reported in January. backupd seemed to be complaining about an inability to move a single file: a preference list in ~/Library/Preferences. (Being unable to copy a single file, of course the entire backup failed. How robust.) I don't have the log handy to cut and paste, but that's not a big deal since the log adds essentially no useful information whatsoever, and certainly nothing resembling a cause for the copy failure. Just our old friend, Error 11.

I deleted the file (it was for a trial version of an Aperture plug-in), and then Time Machine complained about another one in the same directory. I moved the directory onto Time Machine's ignore list, and the backup completed fine. I'm not buying the idea that this is a disk failure or pre-failure. There is no other evidence of disk trouble. There is no SATA-subsystem logging of read or write errors. System Profiler lists the S.M.A.R.T. status as "Verified". Before I deleted it, I opened and viewed the file.

Time Machine needs to be fixed.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

iPod touch Mail Inbox out of sync

I read my mail via IMAP: all my mail sits on my mail server, and I use a range of clients over a handful of different devices to read it.
  1. Mail on a Mac Pro
  2. Mail on a MacBook Pro
  3. Mail on an iPod touch
  4. Mutt via a terminal into my FreeBSD box
  5. SquirrelMail via a browser.

Today, I've been using the first three of those at various times throughout the morning. I've noticed that Apple Mail on a Mac takes its time between marking a message for deletion on the IMAP server (at which point it's still recoverable), and actually having the server flush the deleted message (after which it's gone). Actually, that's slightly unfair, as even Mutt will wait indefinitely between those two actions—a message marked deleted by Mutt will sit there forever until you tell Mutt to purge them. There are two differences between Mutt and Mail here, though. Firstly, there's a visual indication in Mutt that the message is only marked for deletion (that is, it's still sitting there, just with a ‘D’ next to it), and secondly, there's a way to purge them (quitting Mutt or changing mailboxes will result in a prompt to purge). There are neither of these in Mail. When I delete a message in Mail, I can no longer see it (without changing to the Deleted Messages mailbox). (And since I can no longer see it, there's also no option to purge it.) But I can fire up Mutt at this point, and the messages are still there, marked as deleted.

Today, I guess I just happened upon the right combination of reading mail with too many mail readers, and making changes on all of them. Mail on my iPod touch was showing more than 50 unread messages in my Inbox (and they were all there, marked unread, and readable). Mail on the two Macs was showing what I expected: 5 messages, all read. (The other 45 or more had been deleted or moved to other mailboxes via filtering rules.) No matter how many times I synced Mail on the iPod touch, the views of my Inbox wouldn't reconcile. I tried disabling and then enabling the account on the iPod, but this didn't help. Finally, I fired up Mutt, viewed my Inbox, quit Mutt and answered ‘y’ to the prompt about purging deleted messages. On its next sync, the iPod touch displayed the same view of the Inbox as the two Macs. This was easy enough for me, but I don't know what people who don't have easy access to Mutt are supposed to do in this situation.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dear iTunes Store, You Lose!

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant released the fifth season of their hilarious podcast a few days ago. For over two days now, Australia's iTunes Store has been reporting the item as unavailable: ‘This item is being modified. Please try again later.’ Keen to hear it, I actually dug out the login for my old Audible account and purchased it from there. I gave up on Audible a while ago now, but I'm not going to sit around waiting for the iTunes Store to sort itself out. Bad luck, iTunes Store—missed sale.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Parallels Desktop Build 5608

Until 10 minutes ago, I was running Parallels Desktop Build 5584. I use Parallels so infrequently that problems with it tend to go unnoticed, and unmentioned here. I had, however, been noticing an annoying tendency for 5584 to hog the Mac's user interface. Let me be quite specific: it wasn't (as far as I could tell) a CPU issue—Activity Monitor reported quite modest CPU usage throughout. It seemed to be a pure UI issue. For example, on starting up a Windows XP virtual machine, two things were immediately noticeable: firstly, the five second Windows startup sound played staccato over about 10–20 seconds; and secondly, Command-Tab switching was on about a 10 second delay. That is, I could press and hold Command-Tab (in OS X, not Windows), and expect the application selection overlay to appear about 10 seconds later. Once the VM was up and running, things tended to settle down. But, again, it didn't seem to be a CPU issue—I have more than a few cores to spare on this Mac Pro most of the time.

Anyway, apparently I missed Build 5600, but I found 5608. The "Check for Updates..." feature in the Help menu only seems to work manually. I have it set to check every seven days, but Parallels Desktop never told me there were updates until I checked manually. I tried upgrading within the application, but it failed. Twice. It certainly seemed to be downloading the 88M disk image (twice), but it left a faulty image (weighing in at a mere 16K) on the desktop. Twice. So I downloaded the disk image of the same name from their website. There's no indication on the website (nor within the application) that this is the way to upgrade an existing install (and maybe it's not), but it seems to be working so far. Startup was smooth, the UI was not hogged. I like Parallels Desktop, but they make it a hard app to love.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Why is the mobile YouTube app so slow?

(As an aside, I'll use the term ‘mobile’ in place of ‘iPhone and iPod touch’. Seems reasonable.)

The built-in YouTube application on my iPod touch seems inexplicably slow. Sure, it's loading the videos over WiFi, but so is my MacBook Pro. And decreasing the distance to the base station doesn't help—it's dog-slow if I sit the iPod on top of the Time Machine. Videos seem to load over several multiples of their duration. A two minute video takes five minutes or more to fully download. What's the issue here? Encoding formats and a slower processor on the mobile device? (That is, is it decoding on-the-fly during download, and is the decoding incredibly CPU-intensive?) I just don't think WiFi is the rate-limiting step here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

iPod touch as PDA: two week review

Two weeks ago, I bought an iPod touch with the intention of using it as a PDA. On the whole, it's working out well so far. Here are some observations:
  1. WiFi works well. Silently joining known networks is the right way to do it—the Palm TX was always obsessed with telling me what it was doing. Having said that, and despite Internode's pretty decent-looking coverage list, I've found WiFi reception in Adelaide to be somewhat sporadic. Presumably the range from any of those locations is limited. Despite a hotspot listed at 33 King William Street, for example, I can tell you that reception just over the street outside the National Australia Bank Building, at 28 King William Street, is feeble. There's no denying that it would be nice to have the additional 3G coverage of the iPhone.
  2. I'm still not quite sure what to conclude about battery life. It's clearly modest at best, and watching video gives it a real hammering. I think even in the absence of any significant video habit, I would still want to be charging it daily. Not surprisingly, audio is nowhere near as taxing, and the display can be turned off while using it as a conventional iPod.
  3. The Calendar and Contacts applications are significantly better than their Palm TX equivalents. (There's no real surprise there—the TX is a 3-year-old device.) I can't really fault them. They both do what they're supposed to do. Syncing via MobileMe works in both directions.
  4. Mobile Safari is pretty much the gold standard of mobile browsers at the moment. It's that good.
  5. The Mail client is a let-down. It feels like a decent version 0.5 of some kind of much better mail client. There are just too many basic features either done incorrectly, or lacking altogether, to call it anything other than rudimentary:
    • It top-posts on replies. This is a completely inexcusable, Outlook Express-level misfeature.
    • There's no mechanism for selecting a block of text, and hence...
    • There's no way to delete large chunks of text other than sitting there with a finger on the delete key for minutes at a time.
    These problems combined mean it takes quite some effort to not look like a moron when replying to email. Additionally, it would be good to be able to either unsubscribe from, or at least ‘forget the contents of’ nominated IMAP mail folders. I have some folders into which I directly pipe mailing list subscriptions, for example. While I delete a lot of the individual messages, I also save hundreds of them. As far as I can tell, if I open one of these folders using the iPod's mail client, I'm going to start accumulating copies of these saved messages on the iPod, even if I don't download more than the default first 50. I could be wrong here—I need to look into it further.

The interim verdict is this: the iPod touch seems to be quite feasible as a PDA.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

iCal events and time zones

I was in Melbourne last weekend. I had entered an event in iCal for the flight home while I was still in Adelaide, and I had not enabled time zone support in iCal. Of course, on arriving in Melbourne, the first thing I did was to update the system time zone to reflect local time—and consequently the departure time of my return flight was pushed back half an hour. I noticed this when I was looking at a hard copy of the flight details with about two hours to spare. I made the flight. And I've enabled time zone support in iCal.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

iPod touch as PDA

As I've described elsewhere, I've been a Palm fan since the Palm IIIx was state of the art. Via the Zire 71, I've had a Palm TX for just over a couple of years. The Missing Sync has made the TX a viable PDA for an OS X desktop, but it's looking a bit tired.

The release of the iPhone 3G in Australia has been an enormous let-down. While I really like the idea of owning an iPhone, and while I've proven myself willing to be reamed by Apple, I'm just not ready to be dual-reamed by both Apple and, say, Telstra. 3G data plans in Australia are nothing short of utterly ridiculous. Several people suggested to me that I look at the iPod touch instead. This was an idea that, initially, I didn't take seriously, mostly because one of those people was Stephen White, and I hate it when Steve's right. In any case, last weekend I did the customary amount of pre-gadget-purchase research on the issue (none), and went out and bought an iPod touch.

It's a nice looking device. The screen is large. At 480×320 pixels, it apparently has the same count as the Palm TX, though that's where the similarity ends. For one thing, the pitch on the iPod is smaller, squeezing them into about half an inch less real estate. The display is brighter, the colour is better. Every thing you've heard about the screen on the iPhone and the iPod touch is true. Many applications (though not all) can be viewed in both portrait and landscape mode, and switching between them is a simple matter of turning the device itself. (A notable exception, as far as I can tell, is the Mail application. I'd really like to be able to read mail in landscape mode.)

Coming from a stylus-based touch screen, the iPod's direct-touch interface is interesting. To be honest, I was skeptical—I assumed it would be hopeless, way too easy to fat-finger everything. Of course, it's not. It works very well. The hot point of a given touch is just the centre of your fat finger. The device seems to get it right pretty much all of the time. Typing is tedious (though, again, significantly more accurate than I thought it would be), but I think the ‘virtual-keyboard vs hardware-keyboard’ debate is largely moot—typing on any miniature keyboard is excruciating.

I am yet to put it through any normal day's use, but as far as I can see, reports of poor battery life seem to be well-founded. I can't see it getting through more than a day of even medium-level use. It will need a recharge at least daily.

Connectivity is via USB cable and WiFi, there's no Bluetooth. I must admit, I really liked cable-less syncing of the Palm TX, but I just can't put the lack of Bluetooth in deal-breaker territory. A proportion of syncing (contacts, calendars and mail) can be done over WiFi anyway, assuming there's a MobileMe subscription. Frankly, that's good enough for me. I'm just pleased to be putting the overpriced fee to some additional use.

I have made some tentative visits to the iTunes App Store. There seems to be a lot of junk. I downloaded Apple's Remote app, and it is as neat as people keep exclaiming. Beyond that, there's a slew of the kind of standard rubbish you see for every mobile platform (for the love of god, who's out there converting all those units?). I used the Palm TX for three main tasks, and I think the iPod touch is going to cover most of it:
  • Diary. The built-in Calendar app, syncing seamlessly with iCal, far surpasses the Palm.
  • Contacts. Again, the built-in Contacts app, syncing seamlessly with Address Book, has this covered.
  • Password storage. We start to hit a rough spot here. I was using a free product called Keyring on the TX. I have no doubt there is a password storage application already available for the iPod, probably several. But it's going to need a partner on the desktop, because I'm not going to type all the information in by hand more than once again. Further, I've got some additional passwords stored in Yojimbo, so ideally I want an iPod version of that (not happening in the near future), or at least something that can share Yojimbo's password data. For now, I'm just going to move from Keyring to Yojimbo on the desktop.
Finally, I very much want to check out OmniFocus for iPhone, as I make extensive use of OmniFocus on the desktop. Obviously the idea is to have the application on the iPod sync with the desktop database, but “Sync requires OmniFocus 1.1, currently pre-release...”. I did enough beta-testing for Omni Group during the OmniFocus open beta. I just don't have a good feeling about letting a pre-release 1.1 loose on my (fairly large) OmniFocus database. So I plan to sit this one out until the real 1.1 release.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Relaunching Finder

How often should I need to be relaunching Finder? I'd have thought the answer would be “almost never”. On my Mac Pro, which is up constantly, pretty much rebooting only when required by Software Update, and often sleeping overnight, Finder is wedging itself (by which I mean becoming almost completely unresponsive to user input) about every two or three days. Days. Relaunching Finder fixes the problem, but this seems ridiculously frequent to me. In comparison, my MacBook Pro, which is up about as constantly, but maybe sleeps more, basically never requires a Finder relaunch.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

iPhone in Australia

Mark Pesce pretty much nails the entire issue with his post entitled iPhail. I'd be interested in picking up an iPhone in a month or two, once the hysteria has died down a little, but as Mark points out, it's basically a Festival Of Ream on 3G data plans in Australia. What I would almost certainly do initially is forgo a data plan at all. With WiFi, I'd have network access at home, at work, and in parts of the city via Internode. I'm not sure I'd be in desperate need of much more than that.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

iDisk: today it simply doesn't work at all

Yesterday I complained that my iDisk was slow. Today, it simply doesn't work at all. This dialog has been on-screen, unchanged, for 15 minutes:
Copying fail.png
All I was trying to do was make a local copy of a folder on the iDisk.

Worse, the dialog wouldn't leave when I hit the small ‘x’-button which claims to ‘Stop copying’. So I relaunched the Finder, which has now completely crashed. Awesome.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

iDisk is so slow it's unusable

I noted a couple of weeks ago that I make occasional use of .Mac's iDisk. I had been working on a project in Xcode last night—just going through the examples in Aaron Hillegass's 3rd edition of ‘Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X’, so nothing I had put under revision control or anything. Just because it seemed convenient, I figured I would copy it onto my iDisk, and copy it back down to my laptop at work. Opening the remote iDisk in the Finder was taking an age for the new project directory. I tried the web interface, which at least showed the directory tree at a reasonable speed, but I couldn't see a way to download an entire folder. Finally, I tried turning on the local copy feature from .Mac preferences. The sync didn't even complete, showing me a host of dialogs like this one:
iDisk timeout.png
I gather I'm not the first person to notice this, as Googling for ‘.mac idisk slow’ brings up 72,000 hits, some of which date back to 2001.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

.Mac and MobileMe

I signed up for .Mac back in February when I was setting up my then new Mac Pro. I noted then that it seemed expensive at $A 139.95 per year, and I stand by that. I've since branched out from synchronisation to occasional use of iDisk, and uploading a few web galleries from Aperture. On a per-byte basis, I think Apple's making good money out of me. But the syncing Just Works. I cannot recall encountering a problem in four months.

Apple recently announced a makeover for .Mac, starting with a name change to ‘MobileMe’. To make a completely superficial observation, I don't like the name. Microsoft already tried it, and apparently it didn't work out too well. There's a brochure-like features list, as well as a transition FAQ, but I didn't see anything that made me sit up and take notice. More storage: Great, though I'm hardly pushing the current capacity. A new domain name: Wow. New web apps: Now, these look very cool.

Over at the Guided Tour page, there's a short video overview of the new system, and in particular the new web applications. The Mail, Contacts and Calendar applications look very impressive—very much like their desktop counterparts, Mail, Address Book and iCal. The video is worth watching just to see them in action. A lot of the demonstrations are taken from Safari running on Windows Vista, which I thought was a neat touch. (The presenter said ‘cloud’ way too many times, though.) It's not clear to me whether the Mail application is solely for reading mail sent to a MobileMe account, though, or whether it literally syncs up with Mail on the desktop. If not the latter, I can't imagine ever using it. It may well be occasionally handy to use iCal and Address Book as web applications, though.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Spaces in 10.5.3: marginally less broken

Towards the bottom of the page, the release notes for the Mac OS X 10.5.3 Update mention some fixes to Spaces. John Gruber covered the changes at length last month, but since I was critical back in November last year, here's my brief take. From the release notes:
Resolves an issue in which switching to a different space and returning back to the original space may reorder the application windows with a different active window.
I can still reproduce that bug. I'm sitting here in the top-left of four spaces with a Safari window in front of a Yojimbo window. Ctrl-Down, Ctrl-Up... Yojimbo window in front of Safari window, Yojimbo window active. Short of making a screencast, you'll have to take my word for it. But the bug persists.
Resolves an issue in which activating an application from the Dock switches to a different space, even if there is a window for that application in the current space.
I can still partially reproduce that bug. I've got the Mail Activity window in one space, my main window in another, and a new message window in a third. If I head to the third space, make the new message window active, and hit the Mail icon in the dock, I am transported to the least useful of all spaces: the one with the Activity window. I don't see how that behaviour is helpful. Granted, if I make something else active in the third space, hitting the Mail icon in the Dock does just activate the new message window.
Fixes an issue in which Command-Tab may incorrectly switch to a new space.
As far as I can tell, this bug is fixed.
Addresses reliability issues with Spaces when syncing preferences over .Mac.
I don't know what this was about. I'm happy to assume it is fixed.

In brief, Spaces remains at least partially broken. I have yet to find it useful.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Time Capsule: works for me

I bought a 1TB Time Capsule about a month ago. I guess I never mentioned it, because I plugged it in, pointed three Time Machines at it (MacBook, MacBook Pro, Mac Pro), and forgot all about it. It's just been working as designed ever since.

Tim Bray posted a few days ago about his Time Capsule Pain. For what it's worth, I thought I would respond to Tim's observations under his subheading ‘The Bad and the Ugly’:
That sucker runs hot and buzzes; hearing it and touching it makes me nervous about my data.
Mine runs warm (outer case is a little over 40°C). I can barely hear it.
It’s not unobtrusive; you need to keep an eye on the Time Capsule status in your menubar, because if I sleep when it’s running and then try to wake up somewhere else, sometimes I get the eternal beach-ball and thus a forced reboot.
I've definitely never run into that.
A few weeks ago, backups started failing with a useless error message and no other evidence.
I haven't seen that with the Time Capsule, though I have certainly run into some Time Machine failures involving useless error messages.
The other day, my MacBook started crashing every time Time Machine woke up.
Haven't seen it.
Lots of people are reporting lots of other problems, particularly with the “exclude files” options.
I'm excluding some files (or folders) on two of the three machines. No problems.

To summarise, with my three machine-months of Time Capsule experience, I just can't concur with any of Tim's observations. In fact, I basically forgot I had one.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Two unusual screenshots

I've seen Mail 3.2 do this quite a few times:
Weird Header
As far as I can see, Mail is superimposing the value of the ‘To’ header on the value of the ‘X-Bogosity’ header (from Bogofilter). For no good reason.

I think this next one is telling us that while the Transgaming port of EVE Online to Mac OS X is great news for Mac owners, there are still a few glitches that need ironing out:
EVE Mess
Fortunately, docking and undocking cleared the mess.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dick Smith Electronics: 1 / Next Byte: 0

I just went into the city. I wanted two things: a DVI video cable (with a full-size, male DVI connector at both ends), and a cover for my new iPod Nano. Adelaide doesn't have a proper Apple Store, so I went to Next Byte in Gawler Place.

Now, admittedly, my requirements for the iPod cover were pretty specific: I have a Nike Plus pedometer, so it not only had to fit a third-generation Nano, but it needed to leave the dock connector exposed (so that the Nike Plus receiver could be attached), and I had to be able to attach it to myself (for example, with an arm strap) or my clothes (with a clip). Let me cut to the chase: you cannot buy such an iPod cover at Next Byte.

Next I approached the desk to enquire about what I figured would be a pretty standard item. This is how that went:
“Hello. I need a video cable with a full-size, male DVI connector at both ends.”

“Uh, lemme check… I don't think we have those…”
There was some keyboard tapping, and some muttered confirmation from a fellow droid.
“Yeah, uh… we don't have those, just Mini-DVI to DVI. You could try Dick Smith's.”
I thought momentarily of asking whether he meant that the store didn't have the item in stock right now, or whether they really didn't stock them at all. And then I realised not only that the answer didn't matter, but I actually didn't want to know.

So I went to a Dick Smith Electronics store. I picked up a DVI video cable for $A 30, and while it's not white, it does the job. (The obvious follow-up question to the Next Byte droid would have been, “So how do you recommend someone connects a Mac Pro to a monitor?”—the Mac Pro's DVI output ports are full-size.) Little did I know that Dick Smith's also sell iPods, and they had a pretty decent range of covers as well. I bought one for $A 25 which almost fulfilled my requirements—when I got it home, I realised that what I thought was a clip on the back was actually just a thing to wind the headphone cord around. So I guess I fail at iPod covers. And, once again, Next Byte fails at everything.

Friday, April 11, 2008

1998 called: it sure likes the sound of podcasting

In a recent post entitled ‘"Push" technology is so 1998’, my friend Craig Turner writes:
Back in the late nineties there was a fad called "push". Pre-Internet media is threatened by the pattern of consumers being in charge. "Push" was an attempt to redefine the emerging online space to something they were comfortable with.
I remember it well. It sucked. Craig was apparently blogging from an alternate universe at the time, though, as he goes on to claim:
More recently, "podcasting" emerged as a fashionable word. This struck me as strange because to me it essentially the same dynamic as push content…
Craig continues as if the truth of this claim is self-evident, but I'm not buying it. I suppose you could argue that for a certain model of podcast consumption, there are some rough similarities: someone that ‘subscribes’ to a particular podcast in, say, iTunes is in some sense having regular content pushed to their desktop. But you could make the same claim about a mailing list. About Usenet. In any case, I can't speak for anyone else, and I haven't seen any data, but that's not the way I consume podcasts. There are very few podcasts that I subscribe to. (In fact, at this very moment I think the number is zero.) There are a handful whose description lists I'll occasionally browse over, and even more occasionally pick out an episode and download it. (A consequence of this is that if a podcast doesn't provide decent descriptions of its episodes, the likelihood that I'll ever download any is pretty low.) Doesn't sound much like push to me.

As evidence for the thesis that, like push technology, podcasting is on the way out, Craig cites a single article, ‘Why podcasting is failing’. Let me summarise that article here: ‘Making a podcast is quite hard work, and there's no easy way to make money out of it with advertising.’ The translation of this is not ‘podcasting is doomed’, it's ‘Big Media hasn't worked out a way to monetise podcasting’—in my opinion, a significantly less interesting conclusion.

Finally, Craig comments on the MP3 format:
I sat around a geek computer meeting in 1995 discussing mp3s. Everyone there knew that the techonology was revolutionary and would change the world. Thirteen years later we're still waiting on a massive transformation, and the delays to it are not remotely technical - people are just taking ages to adjust to a new understanding of their own interests.
Exactly how massive a transformation are you waiting for, Craig? Thirteen years ago, I could buy what the music store had for sale, in the formats it was offering, and more often than not bundled with some other stuff I specifically didn't want to buy. Now, if I want a single track from a single album, all I need is $A 1.69. I can fit 10,000 of them in my pocket. If that's nothing, I can't wait for your transformation.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

iTunes Store: I bought another lemon

By my reckoning, I seem to attract more than my fair share of problems from the iTunes Store. With the memory of the iTunes Store Audiobook Debacle of 2007 having barely faded, I've been hit again. On 10 March 2008, I purchased “Heretic Pride” by The Mountain Goats. On 17 March, I lodged the following problem report:
Support Subject : Songs 
Sub Issue : Sounds bad
Platform : iTunes/7.6.1 (Macintosh; U; Intel Mac OS X 10.5.2)
Song Name : Autoclave
Location : Specific time 00:00:52 (hour:min:sec)
Comments:
At 00:52 there's an audible skip/repeat in the drum beat,
and then at 00:54 there's a repeat in the lyrics: "my ...
my heart's an autoclave". This is present whether I play
the track on iTunes (Mac Pro) or my iPod.

Now, my friend Dale assures me that the stuttering is not a feature of the song—he bought the CD, and there's no such skipping. Matt from Customer Support credited me a song, and gave me the following instructions:
Please wait two weeks before purchasing this item again. This will give Apple time to investigate and resolve the issue, if possible, or remove the item from the store.

Now, of course, “Autoclave” is just one song out of eleventy billion they must have online, and I'm just one guy reporting a problem. But, to my mind, the translation of the advice is this: ‘I can't personally do anything about this—I'm just in customer support. I'll report the problem, and it might get fixed. If it does get fixed, it won't happen within 14 days, and if it doesn't, it might get pulled altogether. Or it might not. In any case, we're not going to tell you, but here's a song credit, and, uh, good luck.’ Awesome.

So I waited a full 16 days, threw the song in the Trash, and re-downloaded “Autoclave” with my song credit. Same problem: two distinct skips at around 52 seconds. Indistinguishable from the track I originally downloaded. In fact, you'd have to assume it was the same track. Interestingly, they did have different MD5 signatures, but even if it had been re-digitised (or re-transcoded) from the original source, clearly no one bothered to check it out with respect to my very specific comments.

A follow-up to my original report produced much the same response, this time from Mark:
I have submitted it again for investigation, but I can't say when the issue will be resolved. Please feel free to try purchasing again in a few weeks.

Another song credit, and an even less specific timeframe. Outstanding.

To be honest, I might try downloading it again, but I might just pocket the song credit. I suspect I'll just rip it from someone else's CD—The Mountain Goats will have received their share of my $A 1.69 for the track, so I certainly won't be feeling bad about that. Five weeks and two emails is more than enough of my time and energy as an unpaid beta tester for Apple's track library.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Three curious things

  1. After installing Leopard on my MacBook Pro, (text-mode) Emacs stopped working. I have no idea why. It would segfault with some kind of failure to malloc(), or something—I stopped paying attention after I noticed it wasn't running. Anyway, about a week ago, I noticed it had started working again. I have no idea why.
  2. The preference I assigned to my mouse's ‘Button 4’ is no longer mysteriously disappearing. I have no idea why.
  3. The other night, I synchronised my iPod and disconnected it. According to its user interface, there was no music on it. None. I plugged it back in, figuring I'd re-synchronise. That sync lasted a couple of seconds—that is, it didn't transfer 20G of music. I disconnected. My collection was intact. I have no idea why.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Adding a second display to a Mac Pro

Having almost completely decommissioned the P4 Wintel box on my other desk, I've now got a Samsung SyncMaster 193T† LCD display that's not really doing much. So tonight I dragged it over to meet the Mac Pro. Observations:
  1. After Googling ridiculous phrases like “when i connect a second display to a mac pro do i need to turn the machine off” and getting nowhere, I figured I'd just experiment. Result: it's sufficient to put the machine into sleep mode, connect the second display, and wake the machine. I have no idea if it's necessary.
  2. Mac OS X has a colour profile for the Samsung SyncMaster 193T. I've had this monitor for maybe four or five years—it's not new. I was impressed.
  3. I reset the monitor's display settings, and selected the provided profile. The results are not spectacular. Granted, it's an old monitor, but sitting next to my brand new Apple Cinema Display, white looks far from white on the Samsung. There may be some scope for adjusting its settings, but maybe it's just a crap monitor.
  4. Having a monitor that can rotate its display is actually quite cool—great for showing A4 documents, for example.
  5. While the monitor has a DVI input, I don't have a cable, so I'm using the DVI-to-VGA converter that came with the Mac Pro. I wonder whether a DVI cable would improve the image.
†: Yes, I'm pretty sure that's Swedish. It was the first hit for the search “samsung syncmaster 193T site:samsung.com”.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Default mail recipients in a reply

Reasonably frequently, I find myself replying to mails I have sent to others. For example, I might come across additional relevant information after sending the original, and want some context for a new message. A neat way to do this is to find the original in the Sent folder, reply to it, trim the quoted text if applicable, and append the new information.

Now, I can't think of any other reason to reply to one's own Sent mail. In particular, I can conceive of no universe in which I would want the recipient of the new reply to be me. And yet this is Apple Mail's default behaviour. (Did I say “default behaviour”? That makes it sound like there's a preference to select sane behaviour. If there is, I cannot find it.) If you reply to a mail which has your name in the ‘From’ field, you'll be the recipient listed in the ‘To’ field. This happens with Reply (Cmd-R), as well as Reply All (Shift-Cmd-R). The only redeeming feature is that the original recipients are preserved in the ‘Cc’ field. They can be manually cut and pasted into ‘To’. A real mailer would not make me do this.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Migrating iTunes from Windows to Mac OS X

I've had an iPod since December 2004, when I received one as a gift for Christmas. It was the first Apple product I ever owned, and it was responsible for me starting to take Apple seriously, something I had not done previously for a number of reasons. Anyway, that's just background to this factoid: I had an iPod before I ever owned a Mac, so my iTunes library has been on a Windows XP box since day one.

I want to decommission the aging monolith that is my Wintel P4 real soon now, so I set about moving my iTunes library from Windows to Mac OS X. How hard could that possibly be? Five minutes on Google lead me to believe, “Not too hard”—I came across not only an article describing how to do it, but official Apple support article 300173 entitled ‘How to use your iPod to move your music to a new computer’. This was going to be easy.

Of course, it wasn't. I made it as far as the subsection entitled ‘Is all the music together?’, step 6. From the Advanced menu, I selected Consolidate Library. There was briefly some consolidation, and then this:
iTunes-Fail.png
Outstanding. In what universe does this qualify as a useful error dialog? Déjà vu.

There are at least two problems here.
  1. The first is completely obvious: For the love of god, which file name was invalid or too long?
  2. The second you'll have to take my word for: the consolidation operation aborted at that point, leaving (as far as I could tell) some of my music inside the iTunes Library, and some of it in its original location.
If either of these problems hadn't occurred, I could have moved on. If I knew which file was problematic, I could have changed its name. If consolidation had just soldiered on or it just reverted to the original state, I could have thought about a different approach.

To say that I was disappointed with how things were going at this point wouldn't really adequately convey my mood.

I had heard about software which could extract music from an iPod, but I had never tested any. Actually, I didn't even know the names of any applications. Google sent me to Senuti. Senuti certainly had no trouble finding the music on my iPod—all listed and organised as advertised, even the metadata (rating, times played, and so on). It also had no trouble transferring that music to my Mac Pro. What I couldn't get it to do, and what was going to be a deal-breaker this time, was transfer that metadata over to iTunes on the Mac Pro. I rode the change a preference–extract–check–delete merry-go-round for a few hours. I transferred my 20G music collection off the iPod about six times. Senuti could see the metadata, it just wouldn't pass it to iTunes. Then, sometime after midnight, eyelids propped open with matches, I somehow noticed I was running Senuti 0.50.1, and there was a 0.50.2b3 (a beta release—I had downloaded the latest stable release). I downloaded. I installed. It worked.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mouse button preferences are being silently dropped

Since discovering that my Mighty Mouse can function as a two-button mouse, I've been experimenting with other mouse preferences. I've set ‘Button 4’—squeezing (somewhat awkwardly, in my opinion) the two side buttons together at the same time—to ‘Exposé – Desktop’. This preference seems to randomly revert to plain old ‘Button 4’—that is, it does nothing. About once a day I have to reset it. Why would a system preference just fall off like that?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Keyboard Firmware Update 1.0

Despite claiming last month that the MacBook Pro keyboard issue was resolved, I suspect it wasn't and that I had just become really good at ignoring it. In any case, I installed the “MacBook, MacBook Pro Keyboard Firmware Update 1.0” today. The bug is specifically mentioned, unlike my wishful thinking last time:
This MacBook and MacBook Pro firmware update addresses an issue where the first key press may be ignored if the computer has been sitting idle. It also addresses some other issues.
To be honest, I think this should have been fixed months ago.

Setting up a new Mac Pro

After the Mac Pro finally arrived, I was faced with some migration issues.
  1. The Mac Pro is my first desktop Mac. Moreover, it's the first time I've been using two Macs simultaneously, despite it being the fourth Mac in the house. So there are some synchronisation issues: Mail, Address Book, iCal, and so on.
  2. There are some applications I want to straight-out migrate from other machines to the Mac Pro, notably iTunes from my P4 Wintel box, and Aperture from the MacBook Pro.
  3. I want to decommission the P4 Wintel box as soon as I can. There's at least one legacy Windows-only application we still need to run occasionally, though, so I need to look into getting Windows running on the Mac Pro.
The first issue seemed like it would probably be the easiest, and this is how I went about it on day one:
  1. Vanilla set-up of Leopard. This is about the fourth or fifth time I've set up Leopard in the past few months. I couldn't remember my AppleID, so I didn't enter it. I hadn't signed up with .Mac yet, so I left that blank as well. It found my wireless LAN and I signed in. I finished up by running Software Update until there was nothing left to update, which ended up being twice.
  2. I changed the hostname.
  3. (Purely to see what it looked like on a 23-inch screen, I downloaded the EVE Online client for Mac OS X. It installed and ran without a hitch. And, for the record, it looks pretty good.)
  4. I joined up for a 60 day trial of .Mac. In my opinion, the service is overpriced at $A 139.95 per year. I can't imagine I'll use it for much more than synchronising my Apple desktop applications, a service for which that price tag seems a bit steep. But anyway, I'll re-evaluate that in 60 days. Next, I synchronised to .Mac from my MacBook Pro, and then back to the Mac Pro. It worked as designed.
  5. I installed some essential applications: Quicksilver, Adium, Yojimbo and iWork '08 from the Family Pack I bought a few weeks ago. Interestingly, Yojimbo knew it was licensed as soon as I fired it up—is this stored on my Keychain? iWork didn't. Even better, Yojimbo can synchronise via .Mac, so I set that up.
That largely covered the first migration issue identified above. It was fast and painless.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

NetNewsWire: unless I'm missing something, .Mac syncing is broken

I've been using NetNewsWire for some time now. I am still running version 2.1 on my MacBook Pro—I just never saw any point in upgrading. (There didn't seem to me to be anything important that 2.1 couldn't do. And one time I did download version 3, and found the user interface changes confusing.)

This afternoon, I downloaded (the now completely free) NetNewsWire 3.1.3 for the Mac Pro. I figured I would tough it through the UI changes and see how it goes. The only reason I did it at all is because NetNewsWire claims to be able to sync your subscription lists between different instances using .Mac. So I enabled syncing on the MacBook Pro, told it to merge its list with the server's (which is presumably blank to start with), and then synchronised. Then I enabled syncing on the Mac Pro, told it to download a copy of the server's list (planning to change it to merge after this first sync), and then synchronised. Almost nothing at all happened. The only discernible change was this: the article list for Daring Fireball (to which I am subscribed on the MacBook Pro, and which I presume is one of the default feeds for a new install of NetNewsWire) seemed to update itself to mirror its status on the MacBook Pro. Nothing else happened. In particular, it didn't subscribe me to the feeds I had synced to .Mac from the MacBook Pro.

Next I tried exporting my subscription list from the MacBook Pro, and importing it on the Mac Pro. Firstly, it dumped these in a top-level folder called "Imported Subscriptions"—an option to overwrite the existing (and in my case completely unwanted) list would seem more sensible here. And secondly, none of these were updated to mirror the read/unread status on the MacBook Pro.

I had one last idea while I was typing this post. I just manually deleted the default feeds to which I'm not subscribed, put the three to which I was into their proper place in my hierarchy, then moved the whole lot out of "Imported Subscriptions" up to the top level and deleted that folder. Then I synced again. Nothing. Top to bottom, apart from Daring Fireball as mentioned above, every feed is being displayed as completely unread.

Anyone care to suggest what I'm doing wrong?

Yes, Apple does sell a two-button mouse

I bought a Wired Mighty Mouse with the new Mac Pro. Just yesterday I was asking someone if they knew whether Apple sold a two button mouse. They do. The Wired Mighty Mouse.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Arrival

I was going to entitle this post “Delivery”, but, as noted elsewhere, the Mac Pro was never delivered, and I had to go pick it up myself.
IMG_7323.jpg
The guy at the TNT depot (who, frankly, I'm getting to know quite well) pointed out, somewhat sheepishly, that there was some damage to the box en route. Note the gash above the ‘M’:
IMG_7324.jpg
It was certainly a substantial hole, though I could feel intact polystyrene within the box as I passed several fingers in to check it out.
IMG_7325.jpg
I hear that Macs are designed by Apple in California these days.
IMG_7327.jpg
The accessories are bundled into a slim cardboard package that sits atop the foam surrounding the machine itself. As usual, there's a place for everything.
IMG_7336.jpg
Two pieces of polystyrene complete the minimal packaging. I pulled out the Mac Pro itself, shrouded in one final layer of foam wrapping.
IMG_7337.jpg
I agreed to something or other as I tore through the rather verbose sticker sealing the machine in foam, put it on my desk, plugged it in and turned it on.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

There's a Mac Pro on my desk

The mini-saga that was me ordering a Mac Pro is over. There's a Mac Pro on my desk. It is almost certainly the nicest looking computer I have ever owned. It's definitely the fastest, and by far the most expensive. Here's the TNT consignment tracker:
Mac Pro TNT delivery.png
Let me point out the interesting bits.
  • Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.
  • Indeed, I was not at home on 12 February 2008 at 8:19am. I was on my way to work. So was my wife. We have jobs, full-time jobs. I don't recall ever being at home for a courier delivery. Ever. I've driven to the TNT depot twice, and the Australian Air Express depot once this year. I commented on this insanity almost two years ago. For a residential address, what's so hard about calling ahead and negotiating even a rough time estimate?
  • Once you miss a delivery, there's apparently no possibility whatsoever of collecting the package that same day. None. So at 7.59am the following day, I drove to Adelaide Airport for the third time this year. And left with a Mac Pro on the back seat.
I'm planning on a series of posts about various migrations from my decrepit P4 Wintel box to the Mac Pro, as well as managing, for the first time, a laptop and a desktop running the same OS. For now, here's my initial impression: the Mac Pro is fast. It's the snappiest I've seen Mac OS X, which, in my opinion, can be a bit of a dog on my MacBook Pro.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Leopard Help: still sucking

I noted back in November that the help system in Leopard sucks. For me, the biggest problem is being unable to move it out of the way and get it back easily. Here's another reason from August Mueller.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mac Pro update

I still don't have a Mac Pro. (I do have a very nice 23-inch Cinema HD display, but I've never really understood the concept of hooking an external display up to a laptop. Do people just stick them off to one side as a secondary monitor? So beyond testing it out once, I haven't done that.) The Apple Store tells me it will ship by February 14, which is still two weeks away, and a full five weeks from placing the order. Still, given I barely avoided ordering an obsolete model, I'm not complaining.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Goodbye WEP, hello WPA!

I forgot to mention this a couple of weeks ago: wireless networking just stopped working on both the MacBook Pro and the old PowerBook G4. From memory, it went like this: wireless on the PowerBook stopped working, and as part of my preliminary debugging, I power-cycled the MacBook Pro to see if it would reconnect. It wouldn't. I've had numerous problems with WiFi at my house in the past, though I thought they were all behind me. On a whim, I flipped the router over to WPA2—both Macs reconnected. As an aside, my Palm TX would no longer connect, though, to be honest, I use WiFi on the Palm so infrequently, I actually can't be bothered debugging that at the moment.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Time Machine: Backup failed with error: 11

I've been using Time Machine since installing Leopard, keeping my hourly/daily/weekly backups on the 250G Lacie drive that saved me back in October. It works well, though I've never needed to use it. Lately, it's been doing some unusually large backups which I was having trouble explaining, but otherwise things were going fine. Until this:
Jan 11 21:32:56 ralph mds[35]: (Error) Backup: doBackupIndexFile could not stat backup location /sw/share/terminfo/w/wyse160-vb /Volumes/Lacie Backup/Backups.backupdb/ralph/2008-01-10
-203510.inProgress/73C8DD21-4BD5-4877
-8F96-8F0A0A4170E8/Macintosh HD/sw/share/
terminfo/w/wyse160-vb. Error 2 with uid 0

Jan 11 21:32:56 ralph /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[1703]: MDBackupIndexFile returned -1101 for: /sw/share/terminfo/w/wyse160-vb, /Volumes/Lacie Backup/Backups.backupdb/ralph/2008-01-10
-203510.inProgress/73C8DD21-4BD5-4877
-8F96-8F0A0A4170E8/Macintosh HD/sw/share/
terminfo/w/wyse160-vb

Jan 11 21:32:56 ralph /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[1703]: Aborting backup because MDBackupIndexFile failed
Jan 11 21:32:56 ralph /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[1703]: Canceling backup.
Jan 11 21:32:56 ralph /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[1703]: Copied 21765 files (39 KB) from volume Macintosh HD.
Jan 11 21:32:56 ralph /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[1703]: Copy stage failed with error:11
Jan 11 21:33:00 ralph /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[1703]: Backup failed with error: 11

I repeated the backup several times with similar results. Google was minimally helpful, though I did work through some of what Sven-S. Porst describes in his article "X.5 Time Warp 2". Specifically, I tried deleting (or, actually, renaming) the Spotlight Stores folder corresponding to Backups.backupdb and running mdimport on /Volumes/Lacie Backup/Backups.backupdb. Didn't help. Interestingly, the backup was failing on a different file every time, but my patience was exhausted.

I hadn't used Time Machine to recover anything, and its incremental backups were becoming unusually large lately—so I wiped the external disk and started from scratch.
backup-progress.png

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

My name is Paul and I'm an irretrievable Apple fanboy

Recall that yesterday I posted about finally ordering a Mac Pro. The order was placed on Sunday 6 January. Steve posted a reply last night (8 January) pointing out that new models had been released. I didn't see Steve's reply, but noticed the new models independently this morning. They're hard to miss—they're currently being advertised on the front page at both www.apple.com and www.apple.com/au/.

There are at least a couple of factors which objectively mitigate my stupidity:
  1. I knew this was going to happen. I knew it was going to happen when I placed the order, and I admitted it yesterday. It's happened to people before, and it will happen again, as long as Apple continue to keep product releases secret ahead of time. But I placed the order anyway because...
  2. I'm not paying for the Mac Pro, and to get reimbursed for it the invoice had to be lodged by Monday 7 January.
These facts provided some minimal level of comfort this morning.

What I'm not so happy about is what happened next. After these initial rationalisations, I stepped it up into full fanboy mode:
  1. "2.8GHz isn't that much faster than 2.6GHz." (Those figures represent the second-to-bottom CPU configuration in the new and old models.) It's a clock speed increase of 7%. But the CPUs are quad-core in the new models, and dual-core in the old models.
  2. Then I left the planet: "At least it won't be a first run version of new hardware that probably got shoved out the door with minimal testing." Yeah, it will just be a box that's obsolete before it's even shipped.
  3. Then I left the solar system: "The new models don't even have a Bluetooth option." That's right, they don't. It's standard.

The story has a happy ending. I managed to reel myself back in. I got my wife to call Apple (the order is in her name), and since the Mac Pro itself hadn't even shipped yet (the monitor has), she simply insisted they cancel the order and she proceeded to read out the new order I had dictated. The ship date has blown out to 2–3 weeks, but there's less damage on my credit card.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Two new Macs

Last week, my wife brought home a new 13" MacBook. It's nice—white case, gloss screen. At first glance, the keyboard looks awful (almost reminiscent of a chiclet keyboard from the bad old days), but it's actually quite respectable to use. I've now set up Leopard three times in as many months. It was mostly painless, though Mail seems to spend about 3 uninterruptible minutes "testing the server connection" or something equally as pointless. During a previous setup, I tracked that down to it looking on some bizarre port for either or both of SMTP or IMAP. This time I just ignored it. Something new I tried was hooking her up with a free 60-day trial of (the ridiculously over-priced) .Mac service—having spent some time setting up her account on the MacBook Pro, it seemed like a great use case for the syncing functionality of .Mac. It worked, though I stupidly selected a merge on the first sync when I should have over-written the MacBook with the MacBook Pro. We got there in the end.

In other news, I finally ordered a Mac Pro at the weekend. I'm almost reluctant to talk about it, because I know it will probably be superseded before it's even delivered. The harsh reality of getting someone else to pay for it meant I just couldn't put it off any longer. That's a trade-off I will probably learn to live with.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

MacBook Pro problems: so close, yet so far away

I just couldn't make this stuff up.

About 10 minutes ago, I'd typed half of the following title for this post: ‘MacBook Pro problems: finally "fixed in Leopard"’. And then the MacBook Pro locked up:
Jan 1 20:54:15 ralph kernel[0]: NVChannel(GL): Graphics channel timeout!
I had just checked the uptime for the purposes of the original post: a bit over three days. Anyway, as an update to what is now officially an ongoing saga, here's the current low-down:
  1. The lock-ups continue, though certainly they're currently so infrequent that until just now, I thought they had stopped. The problem seems to be widely reported on the web, yet despite this, my regular Apple Service Centre at Next Byte Glenunga claims to be unaware of the problem. I suppose that might mean they're unaware of any official recognition of a problem, but either way it's useless for me—there's no way that can spell anything other than days, if not weeks, of replication-investigation-repair time. I'm seeing uptimes of 14 days and more, and I can barely remember the lock-up prior to this evening. I'm just going to keep sucking this one up.
  2. I installed the MacBook, MacBook Pro Software Update 1.1 a few days after its release. To be honest, it took me several days to even decide whether it had fixed my dropped-keypress problem, possibly because I had become so used to it over the preceding months. Currently I'm willing to tentatively mark that bug as fixed.
So I'm down to one outstanding issue from an original three. Frankly, for the price of the machine, it's still completely unsatisfactory. It's just don't see a better solution than living with the (fairly infrequent) lock-ups for now.