White Whine

My current computer is exponentially more powerful than the one I had when I started using Unix, but thanks to software bloat and feature-creep, it still seems to take roughly the same length of time to compile software.

(This comes after hours of trying to get Mactex to play nicely with latex2rtf because my college only accepts assignment submissions in Word format and I’ll be fucked if I’m using that for long essays ever again.)

Normal programming will resume shortly.

Are Apple Products Badly Engineered?

There’s a lot of brouhaha about the failure rate of Xbox 360s. In the same week, I saw three different news stories citing three different failure rates for the 360 (54.2%, 23.7% and 27.3%, if you’re interested). And everyone gives them shit because they’re, y’know, Microsoft.

Having spent the morning fixing a dying Macbook, I started thinking about what my failure rate with Apple hardware has been. And to be perfectly honest, it’s been pretty shit. In the past five years, I’ve owned (or co-owned) an iBook, two Macbooks, an iMac, a 60GB iPod, two iPod nanos and an iPod touch. Let’s see what’s happened with these.

  • Wife’s iBook ate its own display cable
    Putting a teeny-tiny display cable into a hinge that gets used all the time? Great idea.

  • Macbook case cracking
    This happened on both my own Macbook and my wife’s. If you see how the Macbook is assembled, it’s easy to see why this happens - you have to bend the entire keyboard plate slightly to get it to connect. Bending it weakens the decorative plastic ‘lip’.

  • Macbook case discoloration
    I got this on my white Macbook. Got the keyboard plate replaced, started happening again before I got rid of the Macbook

  • iMac logic board meltdown
    Brand-new iMac died within 8 hours of getting it because the logic board wasn’t connected properly, half the fans didn’t work and melted the graphics card

  • Dead headphone adaptor on 60GB iPod
    This was probably my own fault. I like to use headphones with strong cables and very little ‘give’, forcing the headphone jack to bend slightly. Still, this wasn’t exactly ‘heavy’ use. Managed to replace this via parts on eBay

  • Random lines on 60GB iPod
    No idea where this came from, but it’s like my iPod had a stroke or something. Turned it on one day and there was a strong black band going across the LCD screen. They’ve slowly started fading away now, going back to normal.

  • Dodgy connector on one iPod nano
    This both comes from and affects the Nike+. I plug in the Nike+ adaptor and it doesn’t detect a receiver. Works fine on the other iPod nano. Doesn’t affect normal connection to the computer.

  • Dodgy Nike+ on iPod touch
    My iPod touch will only randomly choose to see the Nike+ adaptor in my shoe. Usually after I do a complete reformat and restore, and even then, it only lasts for about a week.

  • Broken DVD drive in Macbook
    About a year after my wife got her Macbook, the DVD drive stopped working. It was hardly ever moved and rarely used. Still, it means that OS upgrades are a pain in the dick and I can’t run the hardware test utility any more.

  • Broken LCD backlight on Macbook
    This is what I’ve been dealing with today. After a random crash, the backlight no longer works. I can see the display on the LCD, but there’s just no backlight. I don’t even know where to begin with this

  • Update: Fraying on Macbook power chord
    Joanne’s comment reminded me about this. About a year ago, power on the Macbook was a bit flaky. We turned over the power chord and noticed that near the connector, the cable had burned almost completely through. We were lucky that we were in the house when it happened, this could have been a lot nastier than the €80 it cost to replace the chord.

So, of all the Apple hardware I’ve used in the last five years, the only thing that hasn’t given me an issue is one iPod nano (I’ve also got an Apple IIe from 1986 at home that still works fine). Which leads me to wonder if Apple products are badly engineered, or am I just extremely unlucky?

iPhone on Flickr →

99_graph_main_32d01074e4 According to the site’s public data, the iPhone (green line) is the most popular camera on Flickr, having just passed the Canon Digital Rebel XTi/EOS 400D (pink line). It’s also interesting to see how the iPhone ranks in the percentage usage among camera phones (read: it’s virtually the only game in town).

I had really not been a fan of convergence, since I thought that any device that tries to be all things to all people will end up doing a piss-poor job of everything. But the iPhone is definitely making me rethink this.

Reality Overlay

Now that high end “Smart Phones” are being released with all sorts of built-in doo-dads, like a camera, GPS unit and compass, it means that phones know exactly where they are and what you’re pointing them at. Which leads to some interesting applications:

It works as follows: Starting up the Layar application automatically activates the camera. The embedded GPS automatically knows the location of the phone and the compass determines in which direction the phone is facing. Each [commercial] partner provides a set of location coordinates with relevant information which forms a digital layer. By tapping the side of the screen the user easily switches between layers.

This is all kind of difficult to explain in words - check out the video of Wikitude in action to see what is going on…

In other words, your phone gives you a Terminator-style real-time Heads Up Display for whatever you’re looking at. Imagine the possibilities - cross it with Wikipedia/Wikitravel to give you the most amazing guide book ever. Cross it with an application that “calls” your phone and you’ve got the most immersive Alternate Reality Game ever. Heck, if it knows your demographic, then you’ve got some Minority Report-style personalized ads beamed directly from what you’re looking at. Which might sound annoying and intrustive, but when it’s this futuristic, who cares?

"Cars" 2-Disc Blu-Ray coming →

Well, it was bound to happen eventually, I just wasn’t expecting it so soon. According to an article on thedigitalbits.com, Disney will be releasing Cars on Blu-Ray in June. And because of the amount of extra content and the ridiculously high resolution of the movie on the disc, they’re going to be releasing it as a 2-disc (dual layer) Blu-Ray package.

Just to put this into perspective here, a standard DVD (such as the single-disc DVD of cars that came out last year) holds 9GB of data. A dual-layer Blu-Ray disc holds 50GB of data. And they’re using two of them!

For demonstration purposes, here’s what you can expect the difference in quality to look like:

Cars on Blu-Ray

cars_hd.jpg

Cars on Standard-Def DVD

cars_sd.png

Now if only they had given the Incredibles as a 2-disc Blu-Ray release. Then I might be actually tempted to buy a Blu-Ray player.

Havok Physics in the new Star Wars game →

Video footage of a Lucasarts presentation of the technology they’re going to be using in the next Indiana Jones and Star Wars games. This includes the latest version of the Havok physics engine.

Besides the killer technology on show, this video is also interesting for the part where they blow up Jar Jar Binks encased in Carbonite.

Forget Barcamp, where's Ireland's SXSW?

BarCamp Dublin will be taking place in a couple of months and, despite the fact that it’s happening on my front door (I work in the Digital Depot), I probably won’t be attending. In short, this is mainly because I don’t think it has that much to offer to me. I have a blog, but I write mainly for my own enjoyment rather than as a means to rack up subscribers (you should see some of the some self-indulgent posts I have lined up for the next couple of weeks - wow). So with its heavy focus on blogging, search engine optimisation and unexciting technology which, frankly, was of no interest to me three years ago and is of even less interest to me now, BarCamp Dublin gives me no compelling reason to attend.

Now I’ve spent the day browsing through the SXSW website and drooling over the list of nerd-focused talks they will be giving, I can’t help but wish that Ireland had something similar. What attracts me to the SXSW stuff is the completely open nature of the festival. Rather than limiting themselves to a few topics, they’ve made sure there’s something for all types of nerd: movies, music, games, design, blogging, programming are all on the agenda. And because of this, it seems to be completely open, no sense of exclusion because of a lack of interest in a particular topic.

Panels that really caught my eye were:

Why hasn’t Ireland seen a similar event? It’s not for lack of talent. We have an abundance of talented, charming and articulate nerds that could give similarly interesting talks on a similarly diverse range of topics (although there’s also an abundance of ‘squeaky wheels’). Perhaps it’s because the geek community is so fragmented that it’s hard to rally them all together. The bloggers converse with other bloggers, the designers converse with other designers and so on. Perhaps rallying them together for a truly welcoming unconference with something for everyone would be too much effort.

But it would be a thing of beauty.

Then again, what do I care? I’m out of here soon.

Soft-modded Xbox Media Centre!

Remember a few days ago, I wrote about the TV shows I love? Well. apart from Grand Designs and the Channel 4-led shame-fest of Supernanny, Brat Camp and It’s Me or the Dog, I don’t tend to watch much TV on er… TV. The ease of availability of just about any show I want to watch (thank you Uknova and Mininova) means that I find it easier to just download the shows I want to watch. If I wanted to be fancy, I could call this “time-shifting” or something, but let’s just call a spade a spade and say “laziness.”

This generally means watching them on my computer in work (during lunch, honestly!). I’m not particularly delighted with this. A dodgy CRT with a crappy set of speakers can’t really compete with my setup at home. And it also adds another layer of hassle with shows that my girlfriend also wants to watch, like Lost. In these cases, I’ve got a DVD player that will play DivXs, but is extremely fussy about what kinds of DivXs it wants to play. So I end up

  • Downloading the file

  • Using FfmpegX to convert the file (even on my dual G5, this takes 20 minutes)

  • Burn it to a CD

  • Bring it homeAnd this doesn’t take into account the loss of sync between the audio and visuals that FfmpegX tends to helpfully drop into its newly-converted files. Nor the amount of hassle involved in doing this for multiple episodes. It also means that once I’ve watched the episode, I’m left with a lovely new CD coaster taking up space on our already-overflowing shelves (visual evidence of overflowing shelves).

What I needed was a media centre. Something that would let me download episodes, bring them home on my iPod and watch them on my TV. Originally, I had planned to use a G4 Powermac with Front Row at home for the media centre but lack of a graphics card with decent TV-out put an end to this idea. I thought about buying myself a mod chip for my Xbox and installing Xbox Media Center (XBMC), but even this struck me as too much work (and in the couple of weeks it would take for my mod chip to arrive, I would probably be bored of this idea already).

Luckily, I stumbled across a bunch of articles last week about soft-modding the Xbox. This meant I could install XBMC without a chip. So on Friday, I gave it a go.

I used a hacked save game for Splinter Cell which, when launched from within the game, ran a program from within Linux that did all of the hard work for me. Once I installed the softmod, installing XBMC was simple. Now, I can stream movies (I tried it against .avi, .mov, .wmv - all worked) off that same G4 Powermac and still play Xbox games - even play on-line with Live! And the cherry on top of all this is that these movies look absolutely beautiful on the TV. Way, way better than my converted DivXs ever did.

The total cost to me for doing all this was the princely sum of… nattin. I had all the tools lying around (Xbox, memory card, usb/memory card convertor, media server) and it only took a few minutes to complete. Next up: putting a new hard drive in the Xbox. Let’s see if that’s as easy.

Broadband at last!

Reports are coming in of a working broadband installation in my apartment. Rumour has it that my girlfriend rang up the guys in Clearwire yesterday and they delivered the modem today - she just plugged it in and away she went.

(Incidentally, right now, her IRC conversation consists of “SO HAPPY”, “THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE” and “THIS IS HOW LIFE SHOULD BE! EASY!” repeated again and again.)

Can’t wait to get home and get my hands on it. What will I download first?!!

Technorati Tags: broadband, internet, clearwire

Simple Wifi Setup?

Our office is reasonably thin, but quite long. It’s also broken up into three areas

  • Developer Room
  • Front office
  • Board room

The developer room is, obviously, where most of the action happens. It’s got an existing wireless connection, but since our office is so long, its range doesn’t quite extend to the front office. It would be nice if the people in the front office could also get access to the wireless network, since most of those people use laptops anyway. And since we’re kitting out the building, why not give the board room its own wireless access point too?

I didn’t think it would be unreasonable to assume that there existed a wireless access point that contained two “remote” APs, that weren’t actually APs at all, but simply extended the range of the main Access Point. This would mean that someone could connect in the developer room, walk the length of the building and enter the board room (where most of our meetings, both internal and external) are held, without having to disconnect and reconnect. Surely this would be a fairly common request?

Apparently not. I spoke to our supplier about this and he told me he never heard of such a solution. He said that most companies just make do with the disconnect - move - reconnect scenario.

There must be something out there like this. Has anyone heard of anything like it?