Archive for the 'Technology' Category

iTunes, AirTunes, & iPod Touch

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

I have an 80GB music library accessible/shared through my iMac. I’d like to use an iPod Touch to control the library and stream it via AirTunes to my stereo system out by the pool. As ‘with it’ as as Apple seems to be, why is this not a default capability of the iPod Touch?

Micro$oft must think we’re all idiots

Friday, April 10th, 2009

The computer I built for my In-Laws died this week and I no longer had the parts to repair it. The trusty old Windows 2000 computer that had served so well for so long was toast. They needed a windows computer to run their genealogy software (otherwise I would have bought them an iMac) so, I went shopping in search of a replacement. Dell had a 2 week wait on a system that I thought would fit the bill, but 2 weeks was too long to wait. Best Buy does not sell just a computer – they want to sell you a monitor with it. The same goes for Costco. I did find a nice little computer, sans monitor, at Walmart made by eMachines and bought it.

I have now had my first taste of Micro$oft Vista – What a joke! They have added transparency to all of those annoying, pop-up, ‘Are you really sure you want to do this?’, click-happy confirmation dialogs and they have artfully moved all of the the tools and configuration GUIs to places where they are hard to find. Oh, and they now dim the rest of the screen so you can tell what little pop up you need to pay attention to. There appears to be more wide spread use of pop ups and they have restricted what I am allowed to do  – even though I am a frackin’ administrator! All of the ‘power tools’ I need to quickly configure/fix things are now either completely hidden or hard to get to. They have been replaced with wizards that perform inanely simple tasks. Micro$oft must think we are all idiots! Aside from the rearranging of the locations of the tools, there is really very little  – other than eye-candy & fluff – to Vista. I was really happy that I could make almost everything appear in ‘Classic’ form so as not to shock the In-Laws with the new computer. That alone tells me that Micro$oft knows that nothing in Vista is really that different from Windoze 2000 – other than fluff. Those stupid Wizards aren’t that helpful either. I had copied all of the user stuff from the old system over to the new one’s D: drive. Importing the email settings, address book, and mailboxes was a real pain. Apparently, you need to import things in a particular order. Once I imported the address book, I could then import the mailboxes – not the other way around. I never did figure out how to import the Favorites in Internet Explorer – it appeared to want to import them one link at a time(!!!) – so, I just copied them over to the proper location – which had not changed in Vista. I still have no idea where the email mailboxes are hiding though.

I just hope that damned Genealogy software runs under Vista.

MSI Wind upgrades

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Well that took longer than it should have, but I managed to upgrade the memory and hard drive in my MSI Wind. The memory was easy – open the case and insert the SIMM – Done. The hard drive was a bit more difficult primarily because I wanted to clone the existing drive with all of the software I had already installed on it and had to do so without the aid of an external CD/DVD drive. I tried a lot of things and this is what ended up working for me. Planning for this upgrade I did buy a Thermaltake BlacX SATA to USB “adapter” which made this process easier since the drives just plug into the top of the BlacX. My target drive is a WD Scorpion 320GB 7200rpm SATA drive that uses slightly less power than the original 5400RPM 160GB Fujitsu. I partitioned the new drive with 3 partitions using my iMac and the OS X disk utility. The partitioning scheme was MBR. First partition was 39.5GB, slightly larger than the Wind’s C: drive. The second is an 80GB HFS+ for OS X – eventually. The third partition is a 200GB FAT32 partition I’ll share with whatever OS is booted. I moved the disk over to my XP notebook and (re)formatted the first partition. I had to do this after trying several other ways to clone the drive. I then downloaded Acronis True Image Home 2009 which has a fully functional 15-day trial. It is nice software and is reasonably priced at $50 – although it did not quite do everything it needed to do as you will see. I put the original Wind HD in the BlacX and made a full backup (including MBR) to an image on my notebook HD. This was a pretty fast process. I then swapped out that drive for the new Scorpion and restored the image to the first partition and replaced the MBR. OK good to go now, right? Wrong. After reassembling the Wind with the new drive I got a little bit further than I had previously using other tools, but came to an abrupt stop with a “Non-System Disk” error during boot. After a little reading I had concluded that the problem was probably the assigned drive letter (D: instead of C:) that True Image gave the clone (you can’t have 2 C: drives on a system). It appeared that there was no way around this. Just for fun, I decided to have a look at the disk using XP’s Disk Manager. So for the umpteenth time I disassembled the Wind and hung the HD on my note book. Naturally I could not change the drive letter to C, but I did notice that the third partition on the drive was marked active. Could it be that simple? I marked the first partition as the active one and reinstalled the disk in the Wind, again. It Booted! … and the drive letter of the boot partition was now C: -  just like I had hoped. So my Wind now has 2GB of RAM and a fast 320GB HD – it is also overclocked to 1.8GHz and is stable. For those who may wonder, it is just as quiet as the original. Oh, and it boots in under 30 seconds.

I hope this is of help to someone out there.

Is Apple losing control of OS X?

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Hopefully within the next week I’ll have a new Netbook in my possession. This device is compatible with the hardware requirements of Apple’s OS X. I purchased the 5-pack license for Leopard for my two iMacs and still have 3 unused licenses so I am considering installing OS X and dual booting the netbook. In doing some advanced research on the process of installing OS X on non-Apple hardware, it has become obvious that this is a trivial process. I wonder what implications this has for Apple and the way they enforce their licensing for the OS.

The Netbook I selected is the MSI Wind (U100-432US) 10″ system. I’ll be adding 1GB of memory and upgrading the HD to a 320GB 7200 RPM Western Digital Scorpion 2.5″ SATA HD. My goal is to have a tiny computer to run my observatory – freeing my other notebook to run the camera and deal with the high data rate processes. I do not need OS X to run the observatory, but I would also like to have a small netbook for other reasons. I only run windows when I am required to and prefer OS X for “normal” computing, hence the desire for dual boot.

Does Apple’s financial future require that they artificially tie OS X to their Hardware? If so, are they doomed?

WD My Book External HD

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Since I can’t wait for the BluRay writers to come down in price (for both the drive and media) and I’m running out of space on my tini tiny 750GB OneTouch III, I picked up a 2TB External. I decided to go with the Western Digital My Book Studio (Striped RAID array). A coworker has 4 of these and they are very quiet. They are cooled convectively – no fans. I’m 140GB into my first copy and the drive is putting out a bit of heat and you can hear the faint whine of the 7200RPM drives – but only if you put your ear next to the drive. I moved my iTunes library (80+ GB) to the Maxtor and I can hear the drive running when I play the music. I suspect I’ll be moving the library over to the new drive soon.

New iMac and M$ Office 2008

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

The day finally came when my not so old government owned computer at work was replaced by a contractor owned computer. The process we lovingly refer to as being ODINized was happening in my office. My ‘old computer’ was only two years old (a nice white iMac) and worked for what I needed it to do. I often ran OS X along side Win XP under Parallels and thought I could probably use a little faster CPU and more memory. So, I was looking forward to the new system which improved both aspects. I won’t get into the details of what works and what doesn’t other than to say that I’m not a happy camper yet.

What I do want to talk about first is the new iMac. I like the aluminum finish. I never really thought the white with thick clear casing was all that attractive. Distinctive? Yes. Attractive? No. This system has the glossy screen. A lot has been written just on the switch to glossy screens, but I have to say that I liked them when I first used one on my 17″ MacBook Pro and I love it on the new iMac. I also now understand why Steve Jobs likes to wear black shirts. The reflectivity is high, but not distracting to me. The reason is that when you are focused on the screen the background reflections are out of focus. It is even more true with my old eyes which have a very limited depth of field. I simply do not see the background when looking at screen content. The machine is fast(er) and the doubling of memory from 2 to 4GB really helps with Parallels and Win XP – but I knew that from using my MacBook Pro. What really sucks on the new iMac are the speakers. They sound terrible for anything other than the Beeps, Boops, and Groans of the system event sounds. For music just don’t bother – they suck completely. The sound on the old white iMac was not this bad. I wish there was a headphone jack on the front, sides, or bottom of the iMac. Since I have to use headphones for quality sound I hate having to turn my monitor slightly so I can reach the back where the headphone jack is. For some reason I can’t quite do this by feel (it is the the outermost hole on the back and I can feel where it is) while it is nestled in with the other things residing on my desk.

The new iMac also came with the standard ODIN software load which included Office 2008. I have a lot of documents, spreadsheets, and powerpoint presentations built with Office 2004. There is a lot not to like about office 2004, but I really dislike Office 2008. Two things in particular really stand out for me. First was the fact that Office 2008 decided it needed to reformat the column widths and row heights of my 2004 spreadsheets. Now I know that all of my 2004 sheets had a different geometry and that moving one of them to a windows version of office caused problems with fonts and cell sizes, but I cannot afford to resize all of the spreadsheets I’ve created in the last 5 years. I do not even know whether the new column/row geometries are even compatible with the windows version of office now. The second thing I do not like about Office 2008 is all of that useless crap at the top of the screen. With the old system I could put all of the tools I need in my own custom single-line tool bar and use most of my screen area for content. With Office 2008, I have to have some tools in a tool bar and some in that header area where the title and menus are located. Then there is that worthless bar of buttons (I think it may be called the Elements Bar) that helps the brain dead with their access to tools I never use – forms, styles, … . The elements bar cannot be turned off. You can collapse it, but you can’t make it go away. The amount of wasted space at the top of the work area has easily doubled (with the bar collapsed). If I wasn’t before, I certainly now am convinced that Micro$oft is hell bent on writing software for the most idiotic user. They shun the needs of normal competent users (let alone power users) because they fear that an idiot and potential new customer might stray across a product of theirs that has been customized by a person who can think independently and has customized the GUI to suite their needs, likes, and habits. They worry that this chance encounter might scare the new customer away. As you might guess, I ripped Office 2008 out by its tonsils and reinstalled Office 2004. … And then spent the next hour patching the patches to the patches that were patched by the previous patch.

I guess this is why I stilll write my own software.

Petition to the FCC

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008
Mesh Network

Mesh Network

Google is behind a petition to the FCC that requests that they set aside the soon-to-be-vacated VHF & UHF analog TV spectrum for free access (open, unrestricted – to some extent). Their vision is a wireless network from coast to coast with few, if any, gaps and free access for all. Just think of an iPhone that does everything the current one does without the need for a telephone company. Imagine home internet access with DSL, Cable, or dial-up service costs. Think cable or satellite TV without the cable or satellite TV companies. Think access everywhere and anytime without having to sell your arm/leg/first-born to a borderline monopolistic company raking in huge (I’ll argue excessive) profits. Imagine the reliability of a mesh network. Go to the website, read the FAQ, and sign the petition.

OS agnostic computing

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Laptop or large PDA?

This story caught my eye. Dell and Intel announce a laptop that provides the usual set of mobile applications and appears to do so without an OS. Or at least, none of the major OSes you usually find. Is this just a laptop sized PDA or the start of something more? Most computers nowadays allow the user to have multiple applications running concurrently – not just ready to resume instantly – but all of them actually doing something at the same time. I understand why that is good, but is it what we always need? I used to have many things going on at the same time and I sometimes still do (mainly when doing astrophotograpghy). Long gone are my days, compiling and running massive jobs. I mostly aggregate, sort, link, and condense information these days – and I do not need a 3GHz CPU running full blast to do so. I for one can’t type or read that fast and that is what I do most while on the computer. I have often wondered what it would be like to have a minimal OS to switch tasks and provide load/unload services for applications that provide all of their own services. I hope we are about to find out. This won’t replace the PC, but does allow it to expand into a whole new direction.