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.