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tech

The iPhone Post (Part the Second)

The day iPhone 3GS was announced, I realised that on pure technical stats, it was higher spec than the second computer my family owned, bought in 1999 for a tidy sum – a Pentium III 550MHz with 128MB of RAM and 16GB of disk space. Here Apple was selling a device that could comfortably fit in your hand which rocked a 600MHz CPU, 256MB of RAM and up to 32GB of disk space.

In the space of a decade, a desktop computer housed in a two-foot-tall tower case had shrunk to something which was measured in millimeters for accuracy. Such is the blinding pace of technology.

I wasn’t sure what to put in part 2 that you haven’t read, heard or seen already, until I saw this video which, I think, adequately demonstrates what makes the iPhone the representation of the next generation in computing:


(see the creators’ site for more details)

It’s not so much that the iPhone is unique in having the technology to do it, it’s that it brings it all together in a single functional, beautiful and above all usable device.

For all that netbooks are the rage these days, the form-factor is much the same as larger laptops, and none of the direct competition to the iPhone is quite so singular a package – Windows Mobile is a disjointed market, Symbian’s old-fashioned and years behind in usability, RIM’s Blackberries are distinctly business-focused and while Android has potential, its execution thus far has been underwhelming (and sorely lacking in Australia no less).

And now… the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

  • Go-anywhere internet: almost as fast as my fixed line ADSL2 at home.  Wow, wow wow wow wow.
  • Mobile Safari: it’s a real browser! Sure, any real page will need zooming and panning around a lot, but it’s definitely a step up over my previous mobile “browser” or the PSP’s browser, the keyboard of which we will not discuss here.
  • The apps: you remember how your previous phone did stuff that came with it on Day 1, and chances are it never did anything new for 2 years? Yeah, forget about that. Brilliant mobile platform.
  • Assisted GPS: This thing can get your position to a reasonable bit of accuracy inside a building surrounded by skyscrapers on a cloudy day, within 10 seconds. Try doing that on your $400 Navman.
  • Software Keyboard: very versatile, and surprisingly usable… with the caveat of:
  • Auto-correction: very necessary, but fairly good at correcting.
  • Camera: 3MP is a decent camera, especially after I’ve spent all these years with a 2MP one on the phone.
  • Multimedia… everything: music, videos, photos – all easily accessible on a beauty of a screen.
  • Silent Mode switch: oh my… this is so easy and useful and instant, I wonder now why all phones don’t have it.
  • Storage: I think the only one that competes with the 32GB storage here is the Nokia N97.
  • Oileophobic coating: The 3GS has a special coating that “resists oil” and as such makes it easier to wipe off fingerprints. And damn me, it works – a quick brush against a shirt and it’s pristine.
  • Light: amazingly so.
  • Slim: astonishingly so.
  • Scratch resistance: surprisingly so.

The Bad

  • The battery life: you can watch the battery percentage tick down incrementally just by using it for light to moderate duties, and don’t even think about heavy duties. Admittedly, it does a whole lot more than the previous phone, giving all the more reason to play with it, but even so it’s a disappointment.
  • Go-anywhere internet: amazingly expensive. Like, stupidly so, especially if you happen to roam – and to avoid roaming, you’d have to go on the stupidly-expensive-anyway Telstra.
  • Settings buried down layers: simple things like turning Bluetooth on and off, adjusting brightness, switching Wifi networks – these should be a tap or two away, not at least three or four clicks through to it. If Apple won’t do it, they should open the APIs and let control apps fill the gap.
  • Software Keyboard: needs to be customisable – I use a lot of commas, and that’s a multi-step process to insert one on the iPhone, but not a problem on say my dad’s Sony Ericsson X1 with a real keyboard.
  • Auto-correction: unfortunately seems to only be limited to spelling-correction style fixes, and the occasional long word completion. Something more like T9’s predictions based on your previous typing patterns (“Yo” is not a typo!) would be marvelous. That and Australian English (US English has the $, British English has the £… d’oh.)
  • No character count in SMS: what. the. hell. Apple. Seriously.
  • Camera: would it kill to have a bigger lens, and maybe an LED flash? How about night mode? And zoom? My 5 year old phone had all of these… (ok yes, it was 2MP with a shite lens and digital zoom, but night mode & flash no less!)
  • iPod mode: not necessarily bad, per se, but there’s something about the earlier iPods that was more… useable. The click wheel also provided very easy accessibility without having to pull the thing out and play with it – if something like the remote switch on the headphones could be incorporated into a button on the phone itself (more buttons? sacrilege!), that’d be a boon for those of us that use non-Apple headphones.
  • No USB Mass Storage Device (i.e. Disk) mode: Why can’t I use it as a flash drive, Apple? I could with my previous iPods…
  • Stupid App restrictions: most likely imposed by carriers, such as Skype or Google Voice or Slingbox being hamstrung.

The… Ugly?

Are you frigging kidding? This thing is a beauty.

There’s probably nothing in this post that hasn’t been said a hundred times elsewhere on the net, but discovering it for myself is what makes it special to me; I do not regret not jumping on it earlier, as the shortcomings of earlier models were enough that they didn’t form the total package. The first was beautiful, but only functional in ways that Apple defined; the unleashing of apps and the first 3G model made it a competitive platform; and now the third iteration has unlocked its potential. Yes, you pay a premium, but it’s worth (nearly) every cent.

(Anyone up for Part the Third, where I geek out with App Store links?)

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tech

How to set the default language in Mac OSX or Pages to be Australian or British English

How hard is it to find this somewhere straight-forward on the net? Very hard evidently, because how many people come here.

Edit: now updated for Yosemite. Older version below.

Step 1: Open Language & Region:Screenshot 2014-10-25 11.47.13

Step 2: Go to the language list and click +:
Screenshot 2014-10-25 11.47.59Step 3: Select the language desired – in this case English (Australia) and click Add:Screenshot 2014-10-25 11.48.42

Step 4 – Mac OS X Yosemite prompts you to use the new one as your primary language – select this and you’re good to go:
Screenshot 2014-10-25 11.48.56This is what it should look like:
Screenshot 2014-10-25 11.49.10

Now for spelling dictionaries – Yosemite has system-wide spell-checking, so we need to order it there. Pages (and other apps) will pick this up automatically. This time, we go to the Keyboard pref pane:Screenshot 2014-10-25 12.05.10

Click over to the Text tab, and we’ll see the spelling drop-down over on the right – usually this is set to auto, but let’s go through setup to confirm what we need:Screenshot 2014-10-25 12.06.10In the setup window, you can pick which dictionaries apply – so if you’re not going to type in Russian or Polish, for instance, you can remove these: Screenshot 2014-10-25 12.08.10

You can drag to re-order, and click Done to save your preference: Screenshot 2014-10-25 12.09.41

And there you have it!


 

For Mac OS X Snow Lion and Pages 8 and earlier:

Step 1: Open International pref pane in System Preferences

system-preferences

Step 2: On the Languages tab, click on “Edit List”

international-lang-1

Your list of languages already in the list might be longer – e.g., it’ll usually have most of the European languages.

Step 3: Select the language(s) you wish to add and click OK.

international-lang-add

Here I’ve chosen both Australian English and British English – generally speaking though, these are virtually identical and you only need the one you prefer.

Step 3: The newly selected languages should now be in the list. Order the list to your preference by dragging list items around.

international-lang-2

As it says under “Edit List”, the changes will take effect next time you start the application (in the case of Finder, that’s obviously when you restart). Generally speaking, I’d say leave English (i.e., the American one) in there somewhere.

Now you’re done for most of the system stuff. Pages will now create new documents with the top language as the default. However, for existing documents you’ll need to do the following:

pages1

Select all text, and then (1) click on Inspector, (2) click on the text tab, (3) select “More” tab, and (4) set the language.

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tech

You Don’t Get Twitter (Yet)

Ok, we get it, you don’t get Twitter. But you’ve just signed up for it.

And your first “twit” is something along the lines of “No idea why I’m here.”

That’s a good thing – neither does anyone else, and that’s what makes it something entirely new, and that’s why some people are very excited by it. I’m not sure whether this is just another passing fad, but it certainly has exploded over the last few months as its visibility has gone viral.

When people ask what the point is, I generally point out that until about 6 months ago, Twitter would send updates via SMS straight to your phone, no matter where in the world you were – hence the 140 character limit.

This meant it was an excellent way to send mass updates amongst a group of friends, such as the inanities that made it famous – “At Whatever Bar having a beer”, “sitting at starbucks on main st having a coffee”, and such like. It would effectively be a “ping”, letting people who have explicitly subscribed to your feed know where you were and what you were doing, so if they were nearby you could meet up.

As it got more popular, Twitter turned off SMS updates outside the US, UK, Canada and India, where presumably they have a deal with mobile providers. This took some of the steam out of it internationally, I think, but the increasing presence of internet-enabled phones means that we get around that limitation.

But that’s not the point – Twitter’s gone way beyond that now, as companies and celebrities pile in, some cynically using it as yet another marketing tool, some genuinely getting involved in a way that they never quite did with blogs.

Many draw comparisons between Facebook and Twitter, especially with Facebook’s most recent tweak to their design to make it more focused on twitter-like status updates (albeit without the character limit), but there’s a key difference – in Facebook, a relationship is mutual; both sides of the “friend” link see each other.

Twitter, on the other hand, is a network of one-way relationships – you choose who to follow, but they have no compulsion to “follow” you too. It’s this key difference from Facebook that makes it a more dynamic network, and lends it the more apt “microblogging” title. But then it’s not quite blogging, because it’s got a dynamism with replies and direct device updates with its short form that takes it closer to “real-time”.

Twitter is, if anything, closer to YouTube than Facebook – no-one quite knew what to do with YouTube at first, but people poked around simply because it was there; now YouTube and similar sites make up a significant chunk of internet usage globally. Twitter might not have the same bandwidth impact, but by bringing the web-2.0-read-write-web that one step closer to real-time, it represents yet another shift in how the internet is used to communicate.

Sign up – the web is changing apace.

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asides tech

Kindle 2 Released

Amazon releases the Kindle 2 – I have to say, this looks miles better than the previous model. Ars Technica & NY Times have more – now, when are they bringing this down under?

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tech

Terms of Service

With the release of the new browser Google Chrome, some people went digging into the Terms of Service you click so fast past, and discovered:

[W]hen you download Google’s new Chrome browser, you agree that any “content” you “submit, post or display” using the service — whether you own its copyright or not — gives Google a “perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute” it.

Update: it’s all ok now, they’ve taken the clause out.

Valleywag exposes a few more, such as Facebook’s terms: (emphasis mine)

By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

… essentially, as I read it, giving Facebook full control of whatever you put up on there. And furthermore, here’s their terms of termination:

Termination

The Company may terminate your membership, delete your profile and any content or information that you have posted on the Site or through any Platform Application and/or prohibit you from using or accessing the Service or the Site or any Platform Application (or any portion, aspect or feature of the Service or the Site or any Platform Application) for any reason, or no reason, at any time in its sole discretion, with or without notice.

This kind of shit is getting insidious.

Google has at the very least said they will withdraw the ridiculous clause in the Chrome license, put in due to laziness because “they copied and pasted the text from other Google legalese without thinking”.

Which is reassuring in and of itself.

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tech

PSPBook for Mac OSX

This is what you might call a targeted post – if you (a) own a PSP and (b) own a Mac and (c) want to read text files formatted as images on the PSP… well, have I got the program for you :D

A friend (Kelson) told me about how he had a program for Windows that would take a text file as input and spit out images formatted for the PC. I thought, you beauty, now I can read classics on my PSP instead of having to go to the library or buying them. I googled around, expecting only Windows versions, but stumbled upon a little program called PSPBook.

Or rather, frustratingly, links to a program called PSPBook. Links that didn’t work any more, as the creator had apparently moved on and not left any copies around.

Further searching ended up finding the source for it, and what else is a good coder to do than to pick up an abandoned project :D A little bit of tweaking here and there, and we have the following: PSPBook 1.0.3b1.

What this does is get you to select a text file, lay it out in a space that corresponds to the PSP screen, and dump that to a file. Unfortunately, it goes about things in what I consider a clunky way, but it does appear to be a limitation of Apple’s frameworks, unless you really want to rewrite from the ground up (i.e. use CoreText APIs).

You can then copy the files over to your PSP and browse at your lesuire. The program also allows you to tweak the appearance of the text that you’ll be reading. Exporting is a breeze, and that’s about the sum of it :D

This is my first foray into Mac programming, and most of the work was done for me already, with minimal impact from yours truly. It should be a universal binary, though it’s only been tested on a 10.5 Intel, since that’s all I’ve got at home.

The original code was licensed under the BSD license – I’m not a lawyer, but I hope it allows someone to pick up the code should it be available and abandoned. In any case, the original author has been left as the copyright holder, but I’m operating on more of a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license here (do click through there if you’re not sure of Creative Commons).

The app and code is hosted on Google Code, should anyone else feel intrigued enough to pull up XCode and have a poke around (more than welcome to fix bugs, mine or existing!). The previous version is also available, via the repository, should anyone feel like i’ve botched things.

Kudos to Apple for including such a decent set of tools with their OSes – little wonder there’s so much good Mac appery out there.

Categories
asides tech

280 Slides

280 Slides is a Powerpoint-replacement web app that looks quite slick, almost like Apple’s Keynote. Much more powerful than Google Docs’ presentation software, from my initial play around.

Categories
rant tech

The Apple Macbook Battery Swindle

According to Apple’s service department, laptop batteries are considered “consumables”. Any use you get out of your MacBook battery after 1 year, the warranty period, is “a bonus” that you should be “grateful for” (their words!).

I don’t ask for much, but for a battery to go from holding 98% of maximum charge to holding zero to not being recognised by the system at all in the space of a week 13 months out from its last replacement (in-warranty and at Apple’s cost) is ridiculous. I’ve got a 4 year old Dell laptop that still holds 2 hours of charge and the battery is the one that came in the package.

A battery is not a ‘consumable’ – especially not at $200, an appreciable fraction of the cost of a new system – but an integral part of a laptop, and for Apple to claim otherwise is selling these things under false pretenses. The Next Byte store was sold out of MacBook batteries – and that’s not exactly something you’ve got people lining up at the tills for.

If it wasn’t for the fact that Apples remain some of the best looking systems and Mac OSX is so many miles ahead of Windows, I’d never even consider buying one again. All I ask is that Apple build a reliable fucking system I can use for more than a year.

I find myself in agreement with those who call for Apple to license Mac OSX – Apple make some great software, OSX and the iLife suite shining examples of such – and their design studios’ skills are to be respected wherever industrial designers gather. But clearly, they have fuck-all clue about building reliable hardware, and I wish they’d let someone else just have a go at building something with a little more quality control.

That is all.

Ed note: this no longer applies to new MacBooks, since Apple now build it in (i.e. non user serviceable) and push the expected lifespan as being in the order of 3 – 5 years; if you have any issues, shout very loud.

Categories
review tech

Wheeeee!

The Wii? Totally, totally worth it.

I will say this straight up: if it’s top-of-the-line graphics and abilities you want, the Wii doesn’t cut the mustard. Its sole non-game feature that makes pretentions at being something more than a simple console is the internet access, and even that’s flaky and needlessly slow – for one, where did Nintendo manage to find a 802.11b only chip in 2008? Everything else is focused on the game, and in some ways, that’s what you want from a console, despite everything the Playstations and Xboxen are being sold for.

Negative points out of the way, the good: the Wii is possibly the most fun you’ve had with a console since you  blew the dust out of a Super Mario Bros. cart and carefully loaded it into the NES. There’s any number of factors contributing, but chief among them is most certainly the Wiimote and the software developers’ execution of it. It’s one thing to push buttons at the right time to get things to happen on screen – it’s quite another to throw your whole body into that forehand smash, or tire yourself out completely from three bouts of virtual boxing.

The Wiimote and Nintendo’s first-party games have paved the way for a different type of game on the Wii, one which must be easy to pick up and explainable in a few short pictures or instructions. Party games previously would require a (mental) remapping of buttons essentally every time you switch a minigame, but with the Wiimote’s ability to imitate or at least provide a good proxy for physical actions, it becomes something far more intuitive and easy to pick up.

Wii Sports and Wii Play, bundled with the console and extra controller respectively, are almost tech-demos from Nintendo to show what the system is capable of, but end up being immense fun and the easiest to pick up and play any time. Rayman Raving Rabbids is minigames packaged up in a semi-structured format, and while creative and enjoyable, is so out there that it’s a little worrying. Mario Party 8 is sort of Monopoly with minigames, and while it can be fun with a bunch of friends, it amounts to little when you have less than 4 to play, and its play mechanics are unbalanced, IMO. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz on the other hand has a massive collection of minigames that are pretty easy to pick up and fun to play even on your own, along with the main single player Monkey Ball format.

Finally Mario Kart Wii. One thing you know is that Nintendo haven’t mucked with the formula here – this is the same game you played on the N64, or the SNES, with some bumps to the graphics and a few more weapons and tracks. One formula I wish they’d mucked with though is the “balance” given to the pickups makes it a very… socialist game, shall we say. Weighted randomness might make it occasionally punishing to be behind, but there’s definitely some fun in that – as opposed to knowing what to expect and having to work to maintain the lead while getting constantly bombarded in seemingly arbitrary ways (blue shells being the bane of the leader’s existance). The Battle Mode is also sorely lacking, the forced AI players determining the game far more than any human factor. Racing however stays fun and simple, though I recommend using the Wiimote-nunchuck combination rather than the wheel, for precision alone if nothing else.

Back-asswards though this review may have been, the Wii is immense fun. I have yet to pick up more lengthy and challenging games, admittedly, but the fun of the console seems to really lie in the creativity of minigames and the intuitive control mechanism that makes it instantly likeable by many. If you haven’t played it yet, you’re really missing out on what gaming should be – pure and simple fun.

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tech

K

A brief interlude, in which I discuss something that has, frankly, blown my mind today.

If you want to get a job in the finance world coming from IT, it would pay well to learn K, a programming language as concise as it is targeted at doing maths very damn well. To provide an example here, the following code:

(!R)@&{&/x!/:2_!x}'!R

is all that is necessary to list all the prime numbers between 1 and R, the argument to the function. Try doing that in your programming language of choice in even twice as many characters. From all I’ve heard, the interpreter is extremely fast as well

The particular application that has made this popular is KDB, a database that strikes out from the traditional RMDB-SQL world. The primer is a good introduction to K, through its query-targeted subset ‘q’. Now, pardon me while my mind tries to wrap itself around a whole new way of thinking and coding.

Now we return you to our regularly scheduled programming.