October 22, 2011

Jailbreaking an AppleTV 2 with Seas0npass

I've had to jailbreak ATV2s twice now, and both times I've gotten caught up in the 'oh yeah just one more thing' details of this particular finicky task. So I figured I'd add my own 'here's how I got it to work' on the off chance someone Googling it in desperation like I had to both times will find it.

First of all, let's be clear about the goal: I'm attempting to jailbreak an AppleTV 2 (the black hockey puck one) to an untethered jailbreak with a functioning XBMC (Xbox Media Center) install running on it. For those new to this, untethered means you don't have to have the ATV2 connected to anything via USB in order to get it to boot for use once you've finished the jailbreak.

First let's gather the gear.

You'll need, to do this:

  • An AppleTV 2
  • A USB <-> MicroUSB cable
  • A Macintosh
  • An AppleTV 2 power cable (included with ATV2)
  • An aluminum Apple Remote (included with ATV2)
  • An internet connection for the Mac
  • Optionally, you'll need an HDMI TV to connect the ATV2 to to complete the jailbreak and setup.

    So. If you've got all the above, don't worry, it's not that complicated. The only gotcha to worry about is the MicroUSB cable. Apparently, some cables aren't high enough quality or just don't have 'the magic' and won't work. We'll deal with that when it comes.

    Step 1: Set up Seas0npass

    Download the Seas0npass jailbreak utility from here for your Mac. Note: I'm using version 0.78 which will perform an untethered jailbreak of the ATV2 4.3 software. Unzip it and run it. It'll offer you two options: 'Create IPSW' or 'Boot Tethered.' Select 'Create IPSW.' It will begin downloading the IPSW from Apple's update servers (assuming it's still available).

    If Seas0npass tells you that you have UI Scripting disabled, and asks to enable it, tell it OK. It needs to be able to control iTunes via scripting events to finish its job.

    Eventually, Seas0npass will finish downloading the IPSW, and do a bunch of surgery to it automagically which it will tell you about using cryptic status messages. When it's ready, it will say 'Waiting for device to enter DFU mode...' and give you a helpful graphic prompting you to plug in your ATV2. Here's the rub: It doesn't mention the power cord and may, in fact, specifically tell you not to plug that in. However, if you're using a MacBook/MacBook Pro, your USB connection won't have enough power, so be ready in the next step.

    Step 2: DFU

    When Seas0npass is waiting for DFU mode, here's what I had to do to get it to work. Once the dialog came up, I plugged in the MicroUSB, then quickly plugged in the power cable. Then I took the remote and pointed it at the ATV2 and held down the 'Down' control and the 'Menu' button for 6-7 seconds. At the end of those seconds, the 'status' LED on the ATV was blinking fast. Once that fast blink was visible, I let go both of the remote buttons and then held down 'Menu' and 'Play/pause' on the remote (like the dialog said to) for seven seconds. Seas0npass detected the AppleTV going into DFU mode and started installing the jailbreak.

    If you have trouble getting it into DFU mode, you should be able to try unplugging the ATV2 and replugging it in to try again without having to restart Seas0npass. It'll just sit there waiting until it sees the USB signature of an ATV2 in DFU mode before continuing. If the sequence above doesn't work for you, you can try skipping the 'Down/Menu' remote sequence and seeing if just the 'Menu/Play-pause' sequence works.

    If you *still* can't get it into DFU mode, it's possible your MicroUSB cable isn't working (remember we talked about that). To see if it is or not, quit Seas0npass and start iTunes. When iTunes is up, plug in the AppleTV 2. iTunes should immediately see it and offer to let you restore it. If the AppleTV 2 doesn't come up in iTunes, your cable probably isn't working - try another one. I've found that yes, pricier cables in this case are more likely to work. I have no idea why.

    Once Seas0npass starts messing with the ATV2, you can let go of the remote. It'll go through a bunch of steps, including opening iTunes. Don't worry; let it handle it - it should remotely instruct iTunes to open the modified system restore file it just created and install that to the ATV2. You shouldn't have to do anything. In my case, be warned - it did a restore, then tried to do another restore - and the second restore failed with an error. Don't panic. When it's done, unplug the ATV2 from everything.

    Step 3: NitoTV and XBMC

    Now, plug the ATV2 into your TV using HDMI and boot it. It should come up and look like a completely normal ATV2 and ask you to select a language, etc. etc. Don't worry. This version of Seas0npass, for what reason I have no idea, doesn't install a menu in the FrontRow on the ATV2. but it *is* jailbroken. Go into the 'Settings' menu, and into 'About' -> 'Network.' Make a note of the IP address the ATV2 is using.

    On your mac, open a terminal window and ssh into the ATV2 like so. In this example, the IP address of the ATV is

    ssh root@

    When asked for a password, use the default AppleTV2 password of alpine. You should see a prompt that looks something like this:

    Apple-TV:~ root#

    Great. Now lets install NitoTV, which will give us a handy FrontRow menu system for managing software. Type the following:

    apt-get update

    ...that should have it pull down a bunch of new config information and then return to the same prompt. When that prompt comes back, tell it:

    apt-get install com.nito.nitoTV

    ...that should trigger an install procedure. It might ask you to confirm the install (type 'Y'). When that's done, it'll drop back to the prompt again. At this point, type

    and the AppleTV 2 should restart.

    Wait for it to come back up on your TV. When it does, there should be a new menu in the interface named 'NitoTV.' Go there. There's an option to 'Install software.' Hooray! Use that, and one of the options is 'UpdatebeGone' (which you want to install because it disables Apple's automatic update nagware, which crashes XBMC). When that's installed, select 'XBMC' and install that. When that finishes installing, it should restart Front Row, and bam - there should be an option 'XBMC' in the main menu. Congratulations.

    Once you've done all this, you shouldn't need to do it again unless you nuke/restore your AppleTV's system software. So you can put away your cables and etc. :-) Enjoy!

    Posted by jbz at 8:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
  • August 31, 2010

    Sony Bravia and Motorola DCX3400 (Comcast) DVR/Cable box

    Visiting my aunt who is recuperating from a medical procedure. I noticed she'd gotten herself a nice Bravia flatscreen...but after dicking around with it for a few minutes, I also noticed that it wasn't displaying HD. Wha? I checked her cable box - it's a Motorola DCX3400 and claims to be displaying HDTV. It's connected to her TV by *both* coax and an HDMI cable, but the TV claims there's only signal on the 'TV' input (coax). Uh?

    A few seconds dicking around and I figure out how to get the setup menu on the box (turn it on, then turn it off using the frontpanel power button and within a couple seconds hit the 'MENU' frontpanel button). The menu comes up as the manual describes, but says it's *not* connected via HDMI.

    No matter what I do, I can't get it to sync HDMI. The DVD player, plugged into the same port on the TV, comes right up. Finally, after 30 minutes, I acknowledge Geek Fail and call Comcast. After navigating the phone tree, I get a tech who actually seems clueful. He asks what kind of TV. I tell him. He says 'What model number?' Uh-oh. I give it to him. He tappity-tappitys on the knowledge base, and says, "Yep, sorry, I thought so. There are known issues with using certain models of Sony Bravia flat panels with our cable boxes - the HDMI just won't sync."


    So if you have a Sony Bravia and are trying to get a Motorola DCX3400 cable box to work properly with it, forget it.

    On the plus side, since the cable box will only output 1080i (or maybe 720p) anyway, you can just use component video+RCA stereo and get the same resolution.

    Posted by jbz at 7:31 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    March 1, 2010

    Pioneer VSX-92txh and the HDMI 'Not Supported' message

    I was at a friend's house recently and was asked to assist in hooking up a new Sony blu-ray player to their home theater setup. Since the carrot was that we could then immediately watch 'Moon' and 'Blade Runner' in Blu-ray, I said 'sure' and off we went.

    We ran into a problem, however, and it took some diagnostics to fix, so I figured I'd write it up here in case anyone out there on the interg00glez runs into it.

    The Problem:
    The Blu-ray player, when connected to the Pioneer via HDMI and optical digital audio, won't work in 1080p resolution. When we connected the player (a Sony) it went through a 'quick setup' wizard. At boot and during that process, it was configured for what looked like low res - 480? - while it tried to figure out how to set itself. It reached the 'resolution' phase and announced that it would try to autodetect the proper resolution - and then the picture vanished ('No Signal' on the TV) and the Pioneer amp started flashing the message 'NO SUPPORT' on the amp's frontpanel. After 30 seconds, the picture came back (still low res) and the Blu-ray player asked if we'd seen the test page. We said 'no.' Rinse and repeat; the Blu-ray for some reason kept trying and failing to sync up.

    After eventually forcing it to break out of the 'quick start' configuration wizard, we found that it was set to the lowest possible resolution, which did work. So we started trying to manually set it to higher resolutions. Eventually, we determined that while it would display 1080i, any attempt to set the player to 1080p would cause the 'NO SUPPORT' message.

    This seemed stupid. We were talking about a Pioneer Elite amp, and a Samsung LNT5271f TV - both of which most assuredly would handle 1080p. As a test, I connected the Blu-Ray directly to the TV. It worked fine - so the problem was definitely with the amp. The *other* HDMI devices connected seemed to work fine; the Playstation 3 on another input seemed to work. But the Blu-ray just wouldn't work.

    The Solution:
    Well, long story short(er). It turns out that the Pioneer lets you manually assign specific video inputs to a particular function - so for example you can select the 'BD' (BluRay Disc) function, and then specify that the amp should switch to 'HDMI-1' and 'Digital Audio-3' (for example) when set to this function. We had done just that, and set it to 'HDMI-1' and 'Digital Audio 3' or some such.

    The problem, however, is that although the amp will let you select and use the various video inputs individually, they aren't as independent as you might think. The problem: We had component video cables plugged into 'Component-1' for the cable box - and apparently, that trailing '-1' means that those inputs share some part of the signal path. The fact that component video was plugged into - let's call it Circuit 1, meant that Circuit 1 was limited to the maximum resolution of the component video - which was 1080i.

    So we moved the Blu-Ray player to HDMI-4, which had no other devices plugged into that circuit ("-4") and voila, everything worked fine.

    Annoying. No mention of this limitation in the manual that I could find, or on the internet. So hope this helps someone.

    Posted by jbz at 1:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 7, 2009

    iPhone 3.1 and PwnageTool 3.1.3 tip

    If, like me, you have been holding out on getting iPhone OS 3.1 until it was jailbroken, you might (also like me) have decided to give PwnageTool 3.1.3 a try. Why not? Well, I did it, and there's some stuff that you might want to know about.

    Two things. First, as other blogs will tell you, you will lose your carrier logo if you use PwnageTool 3.1.3 to build a custom 3.1 .ipsw and install it. That, I can live with, since (according to t3h intarnutz) this only affects the GUI, not your actual signal.

    Unfortunately, when I restored my phone using the custom ipsw, I didn't get the logo - but I didn't get any service either. I tried about three or four different things, which is a lot when it means rebuilding an ipsw, rebreaking and resyncing each time - until finally I went into Expert mode on PwnageTool and told it *not* to Activate the phone in the cracked ipsw it was producing.

    That worked. I still don't have the logo, but at least it promptly says '3G' now and shows me bars, and makes calls and all that.

    Posted by jbz at 11:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 21, 2009

    AT&T Corrections

    Okay, not as bad as I thought. The AT&T femtocell is only $20/month if you want unlimited calling - which does, in fact, represent an increase over the service offered with your cellular plan in most cases. Also, if you pay that monthly fee, there is no upfront charge for the device itself. If you don't want unlimited calls - i.e. as I understand it, if you want to just have your normal cellular plan operate through the device, minutes and rates staying the same - you just pay a flat fee for the device.

    As Engadget says, though, it's still pricy when compared to the competition...

    Posted by jbz at 2:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    AT&T misses the point entirely, yet again

    AT&T has been working on a femtocell solution for some time now. Details of that offering are beginning to surface. Unfortunately, it looks like AT&T has completely missed the point of this device.

    Dear AT&T:

    If your network was in fact doing the job you claim and promise it does, there would be no need (repeat: no need at all) for a femtocell. If your cellular network actually reached into the places we need it to reach, and had the carrying capacity you so blithely promise in your advertising, then femtocells would only be necessary in extreme conditions - inside very high-interference structures, for example, where we can't really lay the blame of poor service on your network infrastructure.

    The problem, though, is that the entire reason femtocells are necessary is because your network sucks.

    So telling us that you're going to charge us $20 a month on top of our current bills for the privilege of utilizing our own bandwidth, power and space to fix the problems in your network isn't going to stop people from complaining and/or switching providers. On the contrary, it's going to make your entire situation worse.

    Keep telling yourself this: we're asking our customers, who already pay us, to utilize their own private bandwidth, power, and physical space to improve the performance of our network. We shouldn't also being asking them for money for the privilege.

    Posted by jbz at 1:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 13, 2009

    Shipping Delays++

    So I had to buy a new phone, because mine actually broke (not just because there was a New Shiny. I'm proud of myself. Held out over a year and a half past the New Shiny!) and I was terribly worried.

    I was worried because the recent iTunes/iPhone update seems have broken jailbreaking and (perhaps) permanently broken unlocking. This is a problem for me, because I spend perhaps 75% of the time on my phone reading eBooks - and because I like my eBooks to a) be HTML and b) live locally on the phone (I commute via subway) I have to jailbreak it.

    Thankfully, and perhaps I must thank my old phone for its timing, the phone I purchased today still had OS 3.0.1 on it. Which means I can jailbreak it and happily use it as always, provided I am careful to always click 'No' when iTunes asks if it can please please pleeeeease update the firmware.

    Posted by jbz at 11:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    (Planned) Obsolescence

    Hm. My iPhone bought-the-day-of-release iPhone 2G has started failing to accept touch input along the bottom 2cm of the screen. This is a problem, since it's where the Springboard icons are, as well as 'End Call' and even 'Unlock.'

    Perhaps restoring it will help, but I doubt it. Drat. If this this really has gone south, then I have to replace it - it's my only phone...


    Okay, this is screwed up. The screen works much lower than the top of the Springboard icons, because I can type in the Search mode on the bottom row (albeit not the Space row). But it won't accept input on the main screen (and this is after a Restore).

    Sigh. Looks like I'm gonna be poorer.

    Posted by jbz at 4:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 3, 2009

    Microsoft Will Out

    I'd been all worried. I bought an Xbox360, and for pete's sake, it was nice. It worked. I was singing its praises to my friends. I was beginning to worry about myself.

    Then I bought two of the Play & Charge kits. Rechargeable battery packs for the controllers, along with cables to connect them to the console USB to er, both play and charge if the packs run low.

    Took 'em home, unpacked them from their murderous fucking blister packaging, plugged 'em in to my controllers and the Xbox, got two green lights on the chargers, left them there overnight as recommended in the insert - 'charge for a long period before first use.'

    So today, I pick 'em up. Both lights green. One controller boots the Xbox as normal - but the other does nothing. At all. Even when plugged in. I try unplugging the first controller, and it dies immediately. Second won't sync up even when plugged in.

    So I find an entry on the net which states that these things really do suck and a common method of kickstarting a battery pack is to slide the cable juuust into place until you see the green light on the cable. If the light is, in fact, green, you slide it out and rapidly back, not making full contact. If you do this enough times, at some point it will turn *red* which means the thing is charging. Miracle of miracles, that works on the one which boots the box but won't hold charge.

    The other? Nothing. I tried switching the battery pack to the other controller. Dead as a doornail. And what's worse - the damn thing won't even operate with that cable attached but no battery inserted. I have no frigging idea.

    Brand new, these two are.

    So, whew. Microsoft, thank you for fulfilling my expectations, as prejudiced and hideous as they were.

    Posted by jbz at 7:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    August 20, 2009

    Stupid hard drives. Stupid iTunes.

    Spent five or six hours last night trying to resurrect my iMac. Well, wrong word - the iMac was fine. I'd lost my external drive with my backup and my iTunes library. Don't care about the former, so long as I can get a backup on the replacement without anything happening to the Mac, but the latter..yeah.

    I had a backup of the media directory on my server, but due to perms craziness, the automatic rsync update no worky and I'd been doing it when I remembered to. The 'last modified date' on the backup tree was 5/9/09, which wasn't too bad - but I discovered while looking that in fact the most recent actual file synced to the backup was from 10/8/2008. Guh. So everything I've put into iTunes since then - *pffft*.

    Worse yet - I couldn't get iTunes to find the restored files. The problem was that since they had lived on a separate volume, the path my iTunes library DB was set to reflected that. However, iTunes lets you change the path to the library, right? Okay. So I copied the rest of my library back into a local directory, and changed the library location.

    Nope. Couldn't find the files. Even through they were there. When I clicked a file, it would give it the '!' mark and give me the message ("Do you want to locate it?") When I located it, it was right where the prefs file said it should be, and then it would play - but I have over 18K items in my library. Even after the loss. Not viable.

    Okay, time to make a backup copy of my iTunes library directory (the databases, not the media) and start fucking around. BBEdit let me open iTunes Library.xml. In there, I found both the prefs setting for the library location and the listings for all the tracks. Interestingly, the library location was *different* from the path in all the track entries - and the track entries' paths were all set to the 'default' of ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music. Lovely.

    Okay. Changed all the paths of all the entries using grep. Saved. Restarted iTunes.

    Nope. Apparently, the XML file is an *export* - the controlling file is the iTunes Library.itdb or whatever, which is a binary database file. Fuckers.

    After a couple of hours, I determined that if I moved all the files into the actual ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/ path, and then changed the prefs in iTunes to reflect that, it would in fact find the music. Why it wouldn't find it if I put the music anywhere *else* and changed the prefs to point *there,* I have no idea - but I have a guess; I'll guess that since the file loc paths in my XML file didn't agree with the library location pref, I'm going to guess that iTunes was not or was refusing to properly update the file locations when the location pref was changed - maybe because it was already screwed - i.e. they didn't match.

    I don't know how that happened, but I can guess - I'm going to guess that when my original drive died, my Mac (which was running at the time) did *something* involving iTunes (I may even have left it open) and when it realized it couldn't see the volume the library was set to, it changed all the file paths back to the default location - even though the files weren't there. That library file was the one I was still using - because my backup of the library database had been on the other partition of the dead drive, in the backup volume.

    Fuck fuck fuck.

    So anyway, after moving everything back into the 'default' location, iTunes found it all.

    At which point I can determine that 353 items that *had* been in my library no longer exist, although their DB entries still do. Ah well, at least I have a chance to go re-acquire all those tracks and re-enter them, since their data is still there - playcounts, ratings, playlist inclusion, etc. And looking at them, I know that at least 200 of 'em are tracks I *got* but never played with, so meh.

    Posted by jbz at 2:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 17, 2009

    Bother and other words

    I went out of town for two days, and during that time a) I had a vicious gout attack and b) my iMac ate its external hard drive. That drive contained my Time Machine/SuperDuper backups (okay, not terrible, the *original* is still working) and my iTunes music files. FRAK. The iTunes library DB is still sitting on my internal drive, but all the tunes & movies...yeah.

    On the plus side, I have also maintained a backup of that volume on a server.

    On the minus side, the automagic rsync+ssh never worked right, so I would do it manually when I got around to it. Last time? May 9th, 2009.

    On the meh side, I don't think I added more than maybe ten or fifteen tracks to my iTunes library since May 9th.


    On the minus side, now I gotta shell out not only for a new external drive, but for the USB<->SATA dock and pair of bare drives I kept *meaning* to buy as my 'backup backup.'

    Posted by jbz at 7:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 2, 2009


    Hm. I notice, looking over my electricity bills, that they seem to have jumped $40/month starting the first full month I had my plasma TV and Xbox360. And then another 25/month when air conditioner season started. Really? That TV and gimped PC use more power monthly than my antiquated air conditioners? Huh.

    Posted by jbz at 9:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 22, 2009

    I still wouldn't buy one.

    A colleague today let me test-drive his 2006 (997) Porsche 911 Carrera S. I've spent much of my life fending off enthusiastic Porsche owners by explaining how much I hate the things. While I respect the engineering, I don't like the looks, found them severely uncomfortable, and generally lacking in any sort of soul. I drove a 911 when a teenager, and the experience was a profoundly negative one (no, I didn't stuff it, the shiny side stayed up) but I felt very much like the car was sneering at me as being 'unable to handle it.'

    I have a word for people who buy cars like that. That word is 'masochist.'

    Anyway, ever since I started working with this gent, he and I have gone back and forth about various performance cars. I have no great experience driving them (I was born and raised in New York City, and haven't strayed from my urban canyon existence much) but I do own a German car of my own and enjoy it quite a bit, even if it's not really a performance car.

    Anyway, this co-worker was gracious enough (actually, enthusiastic was the word I'd use) for me to take his baby on a quick jaunt through Houston downtown and onto the 59/45 freeway for several exits and back. So I did. I understand his feelings; I like my car so much I often urge other people I know like cars to give it a try.

    So. I didn't stall. I didn't lose control. I didn't really go that fast - at 7pm on a weekday there are all kinds of cops hanging around Houston's freeway system and downtown area. I did, however, get to do several really severe lane-slices, to take unfair advantage of several on-ramps, and generally wind it up to the top part of its rev range in the lower gears. I think I kept it under 85. I'm pretty sure I did. He claims that the car really only gets 'happy' at 90, so what do I know.

    Anyway, yes, it does have light steering. It does have a remarkably good kick in the pants for a flat six, just so long as you have the revs high. Since I drive a V8, my shifting instincts are all wrong - and I kept watching the speedo not the tach, shifting up reflexively once I got near what I thought was my current cruise speed. My colleague tried to convince me to drive the Porker with its revs up high -above 4500 - so as to have torque on tap. He was right, in that if you put the boot in it with the revs in the right range, the thing spools up fearsomely quickly.

    But I don't think it's for me. I like a car that can growl along at just above idle, but then when required pull like a cockslapped oxen (haha oxymoron) off the line.

    So I liked it. But if I had the scratch for a good 997, I'd be looking for a used Aston Martin, or maybe one of the new supercharged Jags. Because I love looking at my cars. And looking at a 911 for any length of time makes me want to reach for a newspaper and squash it.

    Posted by jbz at 12:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 10, 2009

    iPhone 3GS

    Want. Heh.

    Bear in mind I'm still using my original iPhone, so this is a pretty significant upgrade for me. If I'd sprung for a 3G, I probably would be holding out past this, I have to say. In my case, though, Apple will refuse to renew my Applecare on my phone past this month...so it makes sense.

    Plus, I got one of those $100 credits from the original iPhone purchase that I never used (because I didn't buy an iPhone 3G!). I tried to use the code at an Apple Store and they said they couldn't take those codes anymore with the simple codes that AT&T SMS-ed them out with. They did helpfully give me an email address at the Mothership where I could send my iPhone serial number, the 6-digit code I had and my AppleID - and sure enough, 36 hours later they sent my back an email with my full store credit info. Good on ya, Apple.

    Here's what I'm really worried about. For me, my number one 'app' use of my iPhone is as an ebook reader. I have a library of a couple of hundred sci-fi novels that I keep on my phone in HTML format. In order to do this, I need to jailbreak my iPhone for two reasons:

    1. MobileSafari won't accept file:// URLS without a patch available only through Cydia
    2. The only way to ensure I can have my files accessible when out of network coverage (coughSUBWAYcough) is to use the Jailbroken SSH server to scp the tree of files over to the iPhone's local storage

    ...so while I initially thought that at least the iDisk access of files on the iPhone might solve problem #2, I realized that nope, that still streams the damn data and needs a network connection. I do *not* understand why Apple thinks users shouldn't ever have a need to use their data while unable to reach the network.

    Sigh. Here's hoping the DevTeam comes through like the champs they've been.

    Posted by jbz at 5:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 11, 2009

    Lies, damned lies...

    It irritates me that in my professional capacity I have to explain to people that just because a hard drive is 'rated' at 1.2 million hours 'Mean Time Between Failure' that that doesn't mean we can zero out our yearly drive replacement budget for the SAN. Also that if they come to me in 1.2 million hours with even *one* of those drives still working I will give them a pony.

    Posted by jbz at 9:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 5, 2009

    Macworld Expo

    I am, of course, looking forward to Macworld. Because I'm one of 'those people.' Inveterate Apple gear fanatic. The company? Meh. The gear? Drool.

    I dunno what to make of the whole Steve-is-dying-no-he-isn't-he's-just-clever rumorfests. No real opinion. I care more about the gear.

    I'm hoping for the new Mac Mini with HD-capable chippies in it. Blu-Ray would be nice, but His Steveness pretty much slapped that one down a while ago, and I don't see how they could fit it in at the Mini's price point (which has already ballooned).

    One thing I'm hoping is not true is the rumors of the new 17-inch MacBook Pro - specifically, the part that says it has a non-removable battery. For fuck's sake, Apple, if you're going to advertise the machine as the 'media professional's portable workstation' then why the hell would you cripple it that way? I don't care how sexz0r your new battery tech might be, telling a sound tech or video professional that they can't bring two or three batteries to a location shoot is just...stupid. Stupid stupid stupid. I'm hoping this is a stupid rumor and not the truth.

    Not that I want a 17 inch. I just hate seeing cool gear get kneecapped.

    7-9 inch Touch? Hm. Interesting. I won't care unless I can load some decent terminal software, a word processor, and all the other toys I need in a road machine onto it. If it's just an iPod touch with a 7-inch screen, well...I'll carry my laptop to watch movies. The App store is great for cell phones, which are a bear to load software onto in the first place, but it's too restrictive for me to call whatever uses it a 'computer'. I know, I know, if Apple releases this they'll have some cool new market segment name for it, but for fuck's sake Apple, I want something that will prevent me from having to lug my Macbook Pro to work *every day*. Something I can...oh, all right, I want my MessagePad 2100 back, okay? Just get on that, chop-chop.

    Posted by jbz at 12:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 4, 2008

    iPhone ringtone annoyance

    Okay, so, there's two things that annoy me about iPhone ringtones.

    One, you can't use them for SMS message alerts. WHY, APPLE?!?

    Two, if you make a ringtone out of a song file (see bottom for how to do this) and that song file still exists in iTunes - as far as I can tell, if a songfile with the same name and/or metadata exists, that is - then iTunes will refuse to import the ringtone, and just play its existing song when you double-click on the ringtone file.

    If you manage to get a short song into iTunes as a ringtone, and the actual song exists on your iPhone (say, as part of an album) then the ringtone won't sync over from iTunes, even if it shows up in the Ringtones section.


    Oh yeah, the howto.

    How To Make iPhone Ringtones

    1. Find a nice clip you'd like to ringtone. If it's not the right length, use a sound editor to snip it to the right length. Let's assume it's mp3, which is easiest to find an editor for.
    2. Once you've got the mp3, get it into iTunes (drop it in, it should import) and then right-click it. Select 'Make AAC version' from the pop-up menu.
    3. Take the new AAC version and drag it back onto the desktop. Once you've verified it's there, delete both versions out of iTunes and have it trash the files. You'll still have the AAC file where you just dropped it, and (if you were s-m-r-t) you'll have the original mp3 file somewhere still as well.
    4. Change the extension of the AAC version on your desktop from .m4a to .m4r.
    5. Double-click the .m4r version. It should bring up iTunes, and bring up the 'Ringtones' section (if you didn't have one until now, it'll pop up) with your file in it. You can play it from here or whatever. Make sure its entry is checked.
    6. Dock your iPhone. Go to the iPhone in your device list. One of the tabs for sync items should now be 'Ringtones.' Make sure your new ringtone is selected.
    7. Sync.
    8. et voilà. Your ringtone should show up in the iPhone's 'select ringtone' menu under the 'custom ringtones' section. Whee!
    Posted by jbz at 12:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 28, 2008

    SpaceX and the corporate arms race

    Wahoo! SpaceX's 'Falcon 1' vehicle has made orbit on the fourth try, the first private liquid-fuelled rocket to make it!

    Now my question: does this mean we just saw the birth of corporate ICBMs?

    Posted by jbz at 9:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 18, 2008


    Big Mac Boat. I'm having trouble imagining a ship with 16,150 Ethernet drops and 'thousands' of Macs. At least without a tear of happiness in my eye.

    Posted by jbz at 3:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 11, 2008

    Harbor Wing Tech HWT X-1

    I was privileged recently to share a few hours on a train with Stuart F. Platt, retired USN Admiral and businessman. He gave me an enthusiastic overview of his company (Harbor Wing Technologies) and its flagship technology and platform. I won't bore you trying to explain it; go to their site and check it out, it's really quite excellent. While surfing today, however, I noticed that they had just shown up on Engadget, font of all things geek toy! Good on them. I want to see this on large ships, and I want to see the larger prototype make the three-month autonomous voyage that Admiral Platt told me about. I really want to be able to check in on it via the web! Maybe a web-controllable masthead camera? Guys? Guys? Heh.

    Posted by jbz at 3:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 7, 2008

    This would be a 'wow!' moment.

    A Shuttle launch, seen from an airliner.


    Posted by jbz at 2:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 2, 2008

    SpaceX reaches and maybe misses

    SpaceX launched their Falcon 1 booster today from the Kwajalein Atoll. They recycled the countdown to 10 minutes after the first attempt resulted in an autoabort after engine ignition. The vehicle launched and we had camera feed out to around 40 or 50 km altitude, past Max Q. The feed cut off, and SpaceX's webcast crew said tersely that "We have heard from launch control that there has been an anomaly. More details will be posted to the website as available." Then they went offline.


    Hopefully said anomaly wasn't a flight-terminating one, but...well...in the history of spaceflight, 'anomaly' during launch has usually meant Bad Things.

    Sorry, SpaceX. We're pulling for you.

    Posted by jbz at 11:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 22, 2008

    BMW, The NY Times, and the money quote

    Thanks to verbal for the following. The New York Times has a mini-review of the BMW Hydrogen 7 sedan, which they were testing in the New York metro area. They did note, however, that
    The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would not permit the car to be driven through the Lincoln or Holland Tunnels or on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge.

    It seems that BMW drew the Port Authority’s attention when it began pumping liquid hydrogen into its small test fleet of dual-fuel sedans in Port Jersey, not far from the docks where BMWs disembark after their voyage from Germany.

    The money quote:
    And historically speaking, it’s fair to say that the last hydrogen-dependent German flagship that docked in New Jersey left a lasting impression.


    Posted by jbz at 2:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 18, 2008


    Annoying. So I peruse Skype's website trying to find which offering I need to fulfill my 'forward a VOIP phone # to my iPhone' plan. They offer subscription plans such as the 'US/Canada unlimited calling' plan for $2.95/month. They also offer the 'Online number' subscription plan for $60/year which gives you a 'real phone number.' The former just lets you call real phones from Skype. Aha, I say, I see here that they're offering the Online phone number for half off! Excellent! So I go to buy the Online number. Oh, no they're not - as soon as I go to check out, it comes up at the full price of $60/yr. I go back and hunt around the site - now there's no mention of the deal. Sigh. Whatever. I buy it and set it up, have a friend test it, and sure enough he can call this number and it's forwarded to the iPhone with callerID info intact. I get his message on my iPhone voice mail with proper ID info. Great!

    The next day I try it again. Nope. Now callers get a surly female voice saying that the person at this number is not available, leave message after beep. However, the Skype client does show these incoming calls in my history. I try making sure that I have a Skype client running on my Mac while calling, in case they're dumb enough to make that a requirement. Nope, same deal.

    So I go back over the website. Yeah, see, when they say 'subscription' for the Online number, they *just* mean the number. No calling plan. So forwarding won't work because of 'insufficient funds' for call out. I'm not sure why it worked the night before. In I go to purchase the unlimited USA/Canada plan for $2.95 a month.

    And now it says if I buy a new online number, it'll give me half off. But no way to apply the savings to the one I bought. Fucking bait and switchers.

    On the other hand, once I did that, everything worked as expected. So the moral of the story is that when you assemble your services from Skype, make sure you do everything in the right order.

    Posted by jbz at 4:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Telephony, iPhone, and work

    Now that my iPhone works with Exchange, the only reason I have to keep my work Blackberry is so that I don't have to give out my private cell number to everybody at work and clients and the like. This is especially true given that I don't have a landline phone, so my cell is all I have for personal use.

    New plan, though: I'm gonna get a Skype Online Number and see if I can forward it directly to my iPhone. If so, then the only thing I give up with the Blackberry is company paid long-distance. I don't travel all that much, though, so I'm cool with submitting for my long distance on the road if it gets too crazy. I don't know if the forward from online number direct to a Real Phone thing works with Skype, but I guess I'll find out.

    One really annoying update. I downloaded Skype, and apparently I still had the prefs from the last time I tried it a bunch of years ago. It happily recovered my password and let me log in. When I did, it offered me a 'special deal' of half-off a year of subscription, which sounded just the damn ticket. I realized in the middle of paying that I'd signed up for that account using an online pseudonym, though, so I logged off, created a new account with my 'real' info and started again - and the offer vanished. Figuring it was because I was a new user, I logged back on as my old account, and...nope, gone. Phantom deals.


    Still, $60/year isn't too bad, especially if I can expense it (which I can if a) this works and b) I hand the Blackberry back in).

    Posted by jbz at 12:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 15, 2008

    iPhone 2.0 annoyances

    Since upgrading to the new firmware, my iPhone has annoyed me in a couple of ways that it didn't before. Specifically:

    The phone now occasionally 'freezes' for a few seconds during operations, much like iTunes will freeze and give you the spinning beachball. When this happens, it won't scroll or take screen input at all, and gives no indication of activity - no WiFi or EDGE progress spinner. Sometimes the Home button will kick it back to the Home screen, but not always. In every case, it's recovered on its own after 15 to 30 seconds.

    When entering passwords, the 'hide entry' function is broken. As I enter a password, the most recent character is visible until I hit the next character, at which point the previous one changes to the normal bullet. But it's slow and jerky, and in any case *does* display all the letters of my password, if not all at once.

    Battery life is noticeably worse. I'm going to try turning off 'push' and seeing if that helps.

    Note: This is on an original iPhone 8GB with the 2.0 release firmware acquired via iTunes update, nuked during update, no jailbreak/hacks, and these problems all showed up before I installed any app store apps.

    Posted by jbz at 11:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 13, 2008

    iPhone 2.0 firmware

    Bit the bullet and ran the update on my original 8GB, mostly because I wanted to see if MobileMe and Exchange support were worth the whole deal.

    The update process said it couldn't back up my iPhone, error -94 (likely because it was jailbroken). I said go ahead and nuke it. iTunes cheerfully did so, then took 15 minutes or so to run the upgrade procedure. Following that, it dutifully asked me if I wanted to configure a new phone or restore from a backup of (my phone). I told it to restore.

    It synced all my metadata (contacts/calendars/etc) and then started syncing iTunes content. After about 20 more minutes, it was done, and I picked it up to have a look.

    The Good:

    • Exchange push email works as advertised, on EDGE or on WiFi. My work server is happily pushing emails to my phone. I can browse contacts from MobileMe and from my work Exchange server in the same lists, and can specify which to look at using the 'Categories' screen in the Contacts miniapp.
    • The App Store works, downloads relatively quickly, and seems solid. Apps drop happily onto the phone. Caveat: I've only downloaded free ones so far, because I might nuke the phone again so don't want to spend money yet.

    The Bad:

    • There is, of course, no way to get a shell or a POSIX layer. Hence...
    • No SSH.
    • No VNC.
    • No filesystem access.
    • No patch for Safari that lets it read file:// URLS.
    • Everybody with a NY Subway map app seems to want money for it, despite the fact that the map isn't theirs. I'm hoping iWalk shows back up, it was dead useful.
    • A lot of the game companies seem to have inflated ideas of what an iPhone game is worth.

    This sort of sucks for me, because I realized that over the past few months probably 90% of my non-phone iPhone use was reading local storage HTML format ebooks (I spend a lot of money at Baen Books' Webscriptions site. Check them out, they have a nice free library). I can no longer do this, at least until someone figures out a way for me to patch Safari to read local files and then download the files to the phone. I could of course just put it up on a webserver that I own, but then I have to have network access to read books - and most of this reading is done while commuting on the subway.


    I don't know...this might be enough of a motive to try to downgrade to 1.1.4 Jailbroken, if that's even possible. If it's not, well, I have faith that I'll be able to do all this once more - the Pwnage app sounds really promising.

    I am glad I didn't spend money on a new phone. The one feature that sounds like I really want it is...drum roll...apparently there's much improved reception and call quality on the new one. Oh well.

    Posted by jbz at 11:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 19, 2008

    Ice, ice, bab...no, I can't.

    Still, WOOHOO IT'S ICE! The Phoenix Mars Lander reports finding ice (and, funny enough, not by baking it) on Mars. Just to be modern about it, the lander 'reports' this via Twitter.

    Posted by jbz at 11:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 9, 2008

    3G iPhone, yada, yada.

    Of course I was drooling over the liveblogs of WWDC today. I'm pleased to say that what was announced was almost precisely what I predicted a few days ago to a friend of mine, but I won't insist you believe me because it was in conversation and not date-able print. Not that it matters.

    Three of my friends have asked me, the well-known Apple Early Adopter (*cough*SUCKER*cough*) if I'm going to get one, and when.

    You know, I don't think I am.

    I have an 8GB iPhone that I bought the day of release. I've been keeping it in my right pants pocket for a year, with no protection other than my trying to remember to not put my keys in that pocket. It (knock wood) works fine, and has no visible screen blemishes at all - and few on the case, either. I've gone through a pair of V-Moda headphones, but V-Moda replaced them cheerfully under warranty, so good on them.

    What does the new phone (not the new firmware, the new phone) have that I might want? Let's see.

    • A-GPS
    • 3G cellular connection
    • ...um...a non-recessed headphone jack, woo
    • ...yeah, nothing else.

    I really don't care about waiting 45 seconds versus 22 seconds to get my pages to load when on EDGE (rather than HSPDA or whatever '3G' is). I do care that the new phone's data plan appears to involve an *additional* $10/month (for what? That 20-second difference, meaningless when on Wi-Fi? Pshaw). I also care that I'd have to restart my two-year AT&T clock to get one.

    Could Apple have sealed the deal with me? Yeah, they could have. In a simple way, and one that no doubt they'll do within months. The most limiting thing about the current iPhone I have? 8GB of storage. If they'd announced a 32GB version for $300, or even maybe $399, I'd have thought about it very very carefully. I have to manage what's on my phone sort of constantly to fit new podcasts and new video onto it. While I would probably fill a 32GB phone immediately, it would most likely all be with video content both transient and permanent, making the phone a much more usable movie player - which I enjoy about it a lot. Also app data space - although EBooks don't take up too much.

    All the other stuff I really want - Exchange functionality, MobileMe, app store, SDK-and-resulting games - all of these will be available to me free via the 2.0 firmware update.

    Also, suck on Apple if (as reports indicate may be the case) you'll no longer be able to buy the iPhone and then activate it at home. That was one of the little things that made me feel like I was finally achieving some independence from the cell phone scumpond that is the industry (I know, locking it to AT&T more than made up for this slight bright light). It's possible that they're only promising it in stores because the initial production run all went to retail; it's possible that they just aren't sure enough about ship dates etc. to promise its availability via the Apple Store online. But still.

    So no. I think I'll be holding on to my 2.5G version. Here's hoping it doesn't break anytime soon. Hm, maybe I should buy Applecare for it, if they'll let me...

    Posted by jbz at 7:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 28, 2007

    Kindle II

    I finally beheld (and held, and used) a Kindle. New impressions are below the jump in the unlikely event you care.

    It's a nice size; holdable (by me) in between the thumb and fingers of one hand cupped. The screen is very nice when not updating. It's so slow as to make it completely pointless that there is web browsing functionality. Given that that's not its job, that's not really a minus. The form factor as a whole (I was using it without the 'book cover') was appealing in terms of function. It was light enough to hold one-handed for a long time, and heavy enough to not feel too fragile to loll around with.

    PDFs. Amazon claims you can convert them. LIES. ALL LIES. Well, maybe you can - but don't count on the results being usable. Bleah.

    The whole selector deal is odd. Since the screen can't handle a pointer and doesn't have touch anyway, you end up using a menu with the scroll wheel. It reminded me unpleasantly of ATM machines. When reading, who cares? But for all other stuff, meh.

    The keyboard is even worse, functionally, than it looks. It is an obscene waste of device estate and aesthetics. As silly as the thing looks, 90% of the problem is the damn chiclet keyboard. I kept thinking 'Coleco' for no good reason.

    Upshot for me: nice book reader, but I don't spend enough on current hardcovers to make the extravagant price worthwhile, no matter how much I travel, and I'm willing to buy and toss a cheap paperback for roughly what Amazon seems to want for it in e-form. Plus I can leave those on the plane for the next guy or girl.

    If it was $200, I'd buy one. If it did PDFs right, I'd consider buying one at $300. If Amazon told me they'd give me the books I'd bought from them in the past six months as ebooks free, I'd seriously consider buying it. As it stands? Nope.

    Posted by jbz at 9:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 19, 2007

    ob. Kindle musings

    As someone whose main gripe with the iPhone at launch was my inability to install a book reader, I read the announcement of Amazon.Com's Kindle bookreader. Unlike the esteemed Mr. Love, I have not ordered one. Here's my quick reaction:

    • Indeed, AUUUGH THE BUTTONS. Why so many freaking buttons? If you have full control of the store environment, you should be able to control for any requirements for typing. Honestly, if the only reason you're typing is for search purposes, an on-screen keyboard would be fine.
    • Stylus and HWR. For taking notes? e-ink your scribbles, or invest in one of the many HWR systems for said scribbles. Here is somewhere a stylus is meant to be. Scribbling in margins? Stylus. When taking quick notes, a crappy QWERTY keyboard is the fastest way to discourage me.
    • zOMG what no PDF?!??! Waiting to hear this isn't true.
    • EV-DO? Great. Sprint EV-DO? Ugh. How about those of us that live in Verizon-dominated zones?
    • Is there a way to transfer my purchases to my own machine/server for offline storage, even if I can't use them elsewhere? So that I can have a home library without requiring EV-DO xfer of all my titles if, say, I decide to completely change over my contents?
    • Book DRM FTL. See Baen Books for The Right Thing To Do.
    • Kudos on Mobi support.
    • Wait, you want me to pay you for an RSS feed of a blog? Uh. I guess it's for bandwidth, but on a monthly basis? What if the blog just doesn't update that much? I mean, carrying Boing Boing or Engadget would surely eat up bandwidth given their flow and the inclusion of all manner of multimedia, but shee, what if I wanted to read the laconic Mr. Love's blog? Would I get charged the same for that?
    • Always-on network and no generic web browser? When Opera will put one in a watch (or so it seems) this seems...wrong. Oh, okay, bandwidth, fine...so where's the luxe version with wifi? Are we waiting for WiMax?

    UPDATE: Okay, the inimitible Mr. Teichman has informed me that there is a reg'lar web browser in the prefs, and that the device can be mounted as a USB Mass Storage device for backups. Two objections down.

    Eventually, I guess, I'll get to hold one, and then I'll think about it more. But no order from me. I'm actually quite happy reading on my iPhone, even though getting HTML text onto it is not for the faint of heart. It also means I don't have another device to carry, and I personally don't mind the tradeoffs.

    Posted by jbz at 4:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 4, 2007

    I Need One

    ...of these for the Acela. Seriously, people, it's called the Quiet Car. There are announcements. There are signs. There are train personnel. All three tell you you can't use your cell phone in the Quiet car, and that there are five other cars on the train where you certainly can. How hard is that?

    Apparently, too hard for many people. Where's my credit card...

    Posted by jbz at 5:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 17, 2007

    Which is it, Steve?

    From Apple (check the Oct. 17 entry, they don't like deeplinks apparently):

    Let me just say it: We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers’ hands in February. We are excited about creating a vibrant third party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users.
    Woo, Steve! Great! Sucks on the delay, but okay. You know, if you'd just *said* this early on, that whole PR nightmare might have been avoided.

    But lower:

    Nokia, for example, is not allowing any applications to be loaded onto some of their newest phones unless they have a digital signature that can be traced back to a known developer. While this makes such a phone less than “totally open,” we believe it is a step in the right direction.

    ...er, wait. In other words, 'less than totally open' is a *step* in the right direction? What's the goal state? Where you are now? Confused.

    Posted by jbz at 12:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 10, 2007

    Improving your Amtrak Experience

    Pity about the legality issue.

    Via Bruce Schneier's blog

    Posted by jbz at 11:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 2, 2007

    iPod Unknown Error 1416

    Replacing the hard drive in my 4G 40GB iPod (my replacement one was stolen out of my car, and the car connector only works with 4G units, so resurrecting this one was called for) was a snap. I purchased an 'opening kit' from PDASmart along with the drive; for $3 I got four separate miniature screwdrivers and three plastic 'opening tools' - basically very thin-ended wedges. No problems.

    When I plugged it into iTunes, it came up fine and asked me to name it, then started eagerly shoveling music onto the little white bugger. I figured I'd like to restore it to factory settings, so I told iTunes to do that. It thought about it for a while, then produced this message: "Unable to restore. Unknown error (1416)." While the iPod seemed to work, every time it booted it flashed the 'support URL' message before continuing with the boot.

    Solution: don't use iTunes to restore it. Download and run the 'iPod Updater' and use the 'Restore Factory Settings' option first, then update the firmware as required. That did the trick; Gir is all happy now.

    Posted by jbz at 10:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 1, 2007

    No, AT&T is a perfectly fine solution!


    Money quote: "Note: If you are indoors, trying going outdoors or moving closer to a window."

    Posted by jbz at 4:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 29, 2007

    Apple Kvetchings

    Behold, the bleating of an upset consumer. Me, as it happens. As I've said before, I don't really consider the things Apple is doing to the iPhone 'wrong' in any legal or grand moral sense - but the part of me that is purely consumer (which has a large say in my purchasing decisions) is still ticked off at the imminent loss of functionality that is the 1.1.1 upgrade. Hence, the bleating on their feedback page.


    Gentlement and Ladies-

    I have been an Apple customer since my first computer, an Apple ][+ back in 1983. I have owned that machine, a Mac Plus, a Mac II, a Powermac 8500, a Powermac G4, and my current Intel iMac. In addition, I have owned the Newton OMP, 120 and 2100, as well as an original iBook, a titanium powerbook, a 1GHz AlBook, and my current MacBook Pro 15". I own an original iPod, a 40GB gen 4, a 2GB mini, and a shuffle. I waited on line to purchase the iPhone 8GB I currently carry, despite my inability to use AT&T's cellular service in my home - they have completely abysmal service here in Boston.

    I have been using my iPhone constantly since getting it, again despite AT&T providing the *worst* cellular service I have experienced in my fifteen years owning a cell phone. I terminated an 11-year custom with Verizon Wireless for this device, despite their vastly superior network.

    My iPhone replaced a Palm Treo 650. I had said that the minimum requirements for me to switch to an iPhone woulld be the ability to get mail, instant message via an internet IM network, read my eBooks, and use SSH on the device. All of these capabilities were easily available, with multiple choices, on the Treo 650. Despite only the first one being possible on the iPhone at launch, I bit the bullet and bought one, because the interface was so appealing and it allowed me to consolidate my iPod and phone devices. As time went on, I was glad to find that third-party developers were offering me the capabilities I had sacrificed in order to sidegrade to the iPhone.

    And now comes firmware 1.1.1. I completely understand the running battle with SIM unlocking - while I may not agree with it, I have to be honest and admit that it doesn't really affect me, since the only network I'd be tempted to move to would be Verizon, and the radio hardware won't let me. I don't travel internationally often enough for the AT&T lock to be an issue, and as a Verizon customer I was used to my phone not working overseas.

    However, I find myself locked out of upgradng to the latest firmware, because to do so will remove nearly all the functionality that I have come to depend on on this device. AT&T's service is so terrible in the Northeast that I have been forced to carry my work Blackberry on T-Mobile just to be fairly confident of getting a signal between the two devices. This should give you some inkling of how 'useful' the AT&T phone service is to me. However, I have been using the VPN client and the available SSH ports to manage servers, both personal and at work, when not in the office. I have become accustomed to being able to keep in touch with colleagues on IRC (using Colloquy) and AIM (using Apollo) when necessary - IRC is necessary for me as several of these colleagues are located overseas, which makes AT&T text messaging useless.

    I find myself, now, with the choice of upgrading to firmware 1.1.1 and losing all the functionality that I have come to depend on on this device, being left only with the substandard cellular phone system it supports and extremely basic web browsing capabilities which won't let me use 80% of the websites I normally use due to its inability to support flash. While I use Safari as a hack to read eBooks I store on private webservers, this restricts my ability to read books to those times when I have network connectivity - and in Massachusetts, that 'E' for EDGE is not nearly as universally available as you'd think. I had had high hopes that I would be able to transfer some of my 100 or so novels onto the iPhone within a few months as development of additional software flourished.

    Now, however, any effort that remains forthcoming from the mass of smart and creative people writing software for this admittedly excellently-engineered device will be sucked up into another round of trying to outguess your engineers for the meagre prize of simply being able to function. Why? Why would you work so hard to destroy functionality on this device?

    I had had high hopes that, despite AT&T being so very awful, the iPhone would finally be the phone that science fiction promised me - the device I could use for all electronic and networking tasks short of those requiring the screen real estate of at least a laptop. I find myself bitterly disappointed.

    J.B. Zimmerman

    Posted by jbz at 3:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 28, 2007

    Post-update Update

    So Apple released 1.1.1 for the iPhone, and sure enough, it breaks shit left right and center. It's now painfully clear why that Apple clarification of warranty went out first. I'm of mixed feelings about some of this.

    I am neutral about the effects on unlocked phones. As far as can be determined, the update doesn't destroy (brick) them entirely, but somehow disables their radio hardware so that activating them using any SIM card is prevented. While this is most definitely uncool, it also seems to indicate that there is some manner of recoverability, since the 'failure' is clearly a defined mode. What Apple does next is anybody's guess.

    The iPhones left in this state are pretty much (to me) meant to be service magnets - that is, like cable TV providers sending out pulses to brick illegal boxes, Apple hopes that people will bring their iPhones in for service and be scolded back into the fold. The problem is that if this is the case, then Apple must have a method for restoring the phones in question, since the most likely avenue (to my uninformed self) would be to charge a service procedure fee. This indicates that a) the phone isn't damaged and b) there's a technical fix. Apple's problem is now one of timing, it seems.

    The same forces that were behind the unlock and initial jailbreaking of the phone are no doubt working busily on recovering said phones - if not to their 'unlocked' status, then at least to their original AT&T functionality. Apple is therefore betting that 'most' people who have unlocked their iPhone will not want to wait an undetermined amount of time for this to occur, and will tamely submit to the official fix procedures. I don't know what those are - there are reports of iPhones being exchanged by Apple Stores, either because they haven't Got The Memo from the mothership or because the mothership might expect a few innocents to get caught in the blast? In any case, they haven't told us what the Official Apple SUBMIT procedure will be. If I'm correct about their intentions (i.e. scare everybody back into the fold) I'm betting that there will be a 'pay a nominal fix fee' procedure which involves you handing in your iPhone and getting it back unbricked with firmware 1.1.1 firmly stamped on it.

    I'm disappointed in the grand scheme of things by this. I don't think it was At All Cool. On the other hand, Apple did clearly set up the rules of the game when they released the phone, so they haven't done anything 'unexpectedly dastardly.' Especially if there *is* an 'approved recovery' procedure. I am more ticked about the notion that the new firmware wipes out the AppTapp installer, jailbreaking and the installation of third party apps not related to their revenue sharing deal with AT&T. I recognize that this is because it affects me directly, whereas the unlock bit doesn't, but still - there is a contractual and revenue-based reasoning behind the attempts to control unlocking, much as I disagree with it. It's a fight that, dumb as it may be, they chose early on - and their analysis of the money to be had probably told them that it was worth it.

    However, hacks that improve the functionality of the iPhone without jeopardizing their revenue? And, in fact, make the iPhone a much more desirable product? Dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I suppose I should be grateful that the new firmware doesn't brick phones with installed apps, just wipes them - but no, I'm not. I'm just pissed, and I'm holding onto my 1.0.2 firmware image with clenched fists. Until the boffins over at the DevTeam jailbreak 1.1.1 too.

    I couldn't give a rat's ass about the iTunes Wifi Music store. But Frotz and ssh? Fuck you, Apple, those are mission-critical.

    Posted by jbz at 2:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 25, 2007

    iPhone unlock warranty kerfluffle

    So Apple finally responds to software unlocks for the iPhone, and it ain't the smiling tolerance of Aunt Edna:
    CUPERTINO, Calif., Sept. 24 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Apple has discovered that many of the unauthorized iPhone unlocking programs available on the Internet cause irreparable damage to the iPhone's software, which will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed. Apple plans to release the next iPhone software update, containing many new features including the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store (www.itunes.com), later this week. Apple strongly discourages users from installing unauthorized unlocking programs on their iPhones. Users who make unauthorized modifications to the software on their iPhone violate their iPhone software license agreement and void their warranty. The permanent inability to use an iPhone due to installing unlocking software is not covered under the iPhone's warranty.

    (above text nabbed from Gizmodo.)

    While this isn't Happy Fun News for those folks trying to use their phones on other networks, and really isn't Happy Fun News for those jag-offs trying to make business plans out of unlocking the things, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of saying "Um, not sure why this such a big deal." Seriously. First of all, let's try to separate intentional cockblocking from normal, responsible-to-shareholder corporate ass-covering, shall we?

    Apple has just been through a fairly expensive customer-satisfaction exercise involving the iPhone, namely the rebate. Yes, that's pretty much entirely their own fault, no sympathy there. However, look at unlocks in that context - software designed to muck around with the internals of the phone in such a way as to prevent it from functioning normally (normally read 'as intended'). While using the loaded word 'damage' is debatable, it requires no big stretch of imagination to posit that even if current solutions haven't done so, it is possible (using those techniques) to make changes to firmware or other internals of the iPhone which not only temporarily prevent it from functioning properly but which (most importantly) prevent the dock-with-iTunes-restore method from functioning - even if they don't do actual irreparable damage to the device.

    If that happens, suddenly an iPhone which is under warranty becomes a dollar liability to Apple, who must consider the possibility that the person who downloaded our notional misbehaved hack will simply march up to an Apple store and demand a new phone. Is that really Apple's problem? We can debate that, obviously. However, from Apple's point of view, hell no it isn't. This is the electronic equivalent of 'no user serviceable parts inside.'

    This won't stop dedicated hackers. They possess the skills required to resurrect an iPhone which stops responding to iTunes, if that's actually possible, and they're much less likely to walk into an Apple Store and say 'hi, I broke this' if for no other reason than they want to figure out what went wrong and fix the problem. It will ensure that if a broken hack is released into the wild, Apple won't suffer financial repercussions from people gleefully downloading and using a piece of lowlevel software which Apple can't possibly have tested for safety.

    I'm disinclined to worry about non-radio system hacks, either. In the above text, Apple very clearly (thrice) refers to 'unlocking software' rather than simply 'unauthorized software.' This makes it pretty clear that they're not too chuffed about your copy of Minesweeper or your install of Frotz. Especially when we consider the mechanism for updates that we've seen so far - if the update doesn't like your phone's checksum, it just restores it and then updates it. This is a pain in the ass, but it does guarantee (from Apple's point of view) that when the update is complete, you have a working phone with Apple Approved software on it. Sure, you have to hack it again to put your apps back on, and that sucks. On the other hand, if the phone was working enough to respond to the updater and complete the process, then you should be able to do so.

    Enough verbage (too much, really). I, too, am ticked about Apple's stance on third-party apps for the iPhone. I rely on them to make mine into the usable device it is now as opposed to the pretty device it was when I bought it. On the other hand, I'm not going to run out and declare Doom Upon The Mothership for a little normal corporate legal shielding - even I don't see why they should be fiscally responsible if you've been mucking around with your phone deep enough to screw with its radio hardware and it gets broke as a result.

    Posted by jbz at 10:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 8, 2007

    Sheep! We're SHEEP I tell you!

    And how many of us will happily take that $100 credit Steve-O is touting and turn it right back around, if this is true?



    Posted by jbz at 5:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    iTunes 7.4.1 and custom ringtones

    There have been some reports that iTunes 7.4 nukes custom ringtones installed on the iPhone by some software - 'iToner' was mentioned. I have ringtones that I placed there using iPHUC/jailbreak, and they're still there after a 7.4.1 sync (and, actually, it synced to 7.4 before it upgraded to 7.4.1). Just FYI. Mine are all AACs converted from MP3 using iTunes originally.

    Posted by jbz at 2:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 5, 2007

    iPhone approaches reality value pricing

    Don't get me wrong, I love my iPhone. Have since I got it. Still hate AT&T's voice and data services with a burning passion. However, when asked (as I have been countless times) by non-Apple-fanbois) if the time was right to buy an iPhone, I have typically said 'Nope. It's too expensive for what it is. It needs to do more or be cheaper.'

    Well, ding. The 8GB iPhone is now $399. Which is Apple admitting that it's sucked all the rents possible out of us irrational early adopters and has finally decided to release the device to the general (i.e. more rational) consuming public. At that price? Yep, I think the phone is definitely worth it, even on AT&T.

    As for me, I still don't regret it, really. I won't until the 16GB version is out for $499 or $599, because (other than having it run on Verizon) the thing I wanted most from my iPhone was more space.

    I wonder if the price drop was at all due to negotations with overseas carriers?

    Posted by jbz at 2:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 6, 2007

    Another reason that AT&T Wireless Sucks.

    iPhone sticker shock #46j: 2 calls to directory assistance last month. $3.68. Even Verizon gave me some directory assistance love for free, guys. Even Verizon, whom I have railed about. Nickel and dime, boys. Nickel and dime.

    I hope Stevie J. has some devious plan whereby the complete sucktasticness of AT&T is intended to make us all fall down for joy over Apple's branded WiMax VOIP service or something, because otherwise, this whole AT&T thing is just a fucking anchor around the God Phone's neck. I mean, come the fuck on.

    Posted by jbz at 2:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 23, 2007

    Hooray! My iPhone too can stick it to the NSA!

    Thanks to the excellent, clear and efficient instructions posted at hacktheiphone.com my iPhone ringtone is now the same as my Treo's was - the excellent Call Connected Thru the NSA dig recorded by They Might Be Giants.

    In addition to being slightly more individual, as well as more familiar to me, there are a couple of advantages I've reaped from the use of this hack. One, this ringtone is noticeably louder than the default options on the iPhone (yay). Two, iTunes no longer autosyncs when the phone is plugged in. Although some might consider this a problem, I don't; it makes it less likely I'll screw up by plugging my iPhone into another computer and wiping its contents. In addition, I can change my video sync settings without having it start shoving movies back and forth immediately.

    Posted by jbz at 3:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 13, 2007

    iPhone safe charging

    Since the iPhone can only be synced to one computer, plugging it into multiple Macs is a problem. If you plug it into a different Mac, it will do the usual iPod trick of offering to sync with the new Mac...but if you say 'no', there is some chain of events where rather than sync, it will simply wipe the iPhone clean of iPod content. Or, you might (like me) just be pre-coffee and hit 'OK' and then squawk 'NOOOOOOOOoooooo....' and reach for it just too late to yank it out of the dock while you're on a road trip some 300 miles from your music/video collection.

    I have adopted a new method of ensuring I don't do this to myself. While on the road, I only carry a Firewire iPod cable. The iPhone will *charge* from this cable fine, in the dock or directly, from a computer or from the iPod wall wart. But it won't even attempt to sync (it needs USB2 to sync). Ergo, safe charging with no risk of inadvertent sync.

    Posted by jbz at 9:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 8, 2007

    All U.S. Cell providers suck.

    I've been most derisive of AT&T in my previous iPhone posts. I suppose I should be specific about why I'm so down on them. I must preface this by noting that this in no way reflects a scientific study; I own stock in neither AT&T nor Verizon (although I do own some in Apple), and I was a Verizon Wireless customer for 12 years prior to leaving them last week in order to activate my iPhone. I have been a T-Mobile customer via my work Blackberry 8700 for some 4 months now in the New York metro area (Philly through NYC), in Washington DC, and in the Boston Metro area and in Houston, TX. I've used my Verizon phone all over the U.S. (Motorola flips, then Qualcomm candybars, then the Kyocera 7135 Palm, finally a Treo 650).

    AT&T/Cingular's wireless service, subjectively, sucks. Some completely random anecdotal reasons they annoy me follow.

    • I can't get reliable phone service in my house. I live in Cambridge, MA, near the BU Bridge. Verizon was 5-bar service even on the Treo (which had lousy reception) for blocks in any direction, even in my basement. The iPhone and a friend's Treo on AT&T both vacillate between zero and one bar in use sitting at my desk on the first floor.
    • When I do get phone service, it's flaky. The iPhone, sitting in its dock at a particular angle, will in fact get two bars of service. If I reach out and turn the phone ninety degrees, I get 'NO SERVICE.' This is true of another, non-iPhone AT&T handset on my desk that I tested. WTF?
    • For a company whose billboards read 'FEWEST DROPPED CALLS' this is laughable. I never worried about dropped calls before. In the first week, so far, I lost count around twenty calls interrupted due to failure midstream - not all of which even had the decency to bleep and say 'CALL FAILED', some of which just went silent with my handset ticking away for 15-20 seconds before doing so. On testing, I found many of these to correspond to areas where a five-bar signal would drop to NO SERVICE if the phone was rotated between forty-five and ninety degrees. Again, WTF? In only five of these cases was I walking or driving.
    • Outside the Boston Metro Area, heading North, as soon as I got into New Hampshire and onto I-89 service became...spotty. Whole swathes of that highway refuse to offer any service at all. Service is notable around larger towns, which remains true up into Vermont. Um...useless.

    Now, I will offer the following. AT&T, so far, has been much more pleasant to deal with on the phone than Verizon. The latter autoblocked my number transfer for 24 hours so that they could have Retentions call me 20 hours later and harangue me about leaving them; then, when they couldn't keep me, found a way that my executing a 'new every two' credit I'd waited two years to use, cashing in two years prior to buy my Treo, meant that I was in fact still under a contract despite my 12 years of time on their network. Also despite the fact that I'd had to wait two years to get it after signing up. Whatever. As delicious irony, those two years were up July 13th; I deactivated June 29th. Rather than billing me a final month of july, that's right; $175 cancellation fee.

    Whatever, it's not worth my time to argue with them at this point. I had assured the Retentions lady that I was enamored of the iPhone and would certainly return to Verizon if AT&T's phone service, which I was experimenting with, was bad enough to cause me difficulties.

    You know what? No way. Verizon, fuck you at the drive through. I'm done. Worst of all, you know, you *could* have had the retentions lady politely mention the contract to me, you know? Or even, heaven forbid, offer to split the difference and bill me for the month of July rather than hit me with the full $175 early termination fee for a two-week early exit after 12 years? I might have even considered keeping my Verizon phone active as a standby. But no, you simply had your system send me an email notice with the early termination fee, and when I tried to determine why my final bill had jumped by $175 your system informed me that since I wasn't a customer I couldn't use the website anymore.

    And you wonder why people are leaving? Hint: the shitty phones that you lock down are part of it, yes. This is the other part.

    Posted by jbz at 8:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    iPhone, eBooks, stopgap solution

    My major gripe about the iPhone (well, after the completely abysmal nature and quality of AT&T's cellular service, more on that later) is that on my Palm Treo I have around 150 ebooks for use in emergencies. You know, stuck on trains, in airports, in boring meetings, just sitting around? Yeah. Around 100 sci-fi novels of various quality, some reference books, and some classics from Project Gutenberg. The iPhone doesn't offer any way to load them on, much less read 'em.

    Well, the trashy sci-fi novels are the easiest to deal with. I've purchased a large chunk of 'em from the Baen Books online WebScriptions service, and downloaded many more from their excellent free library. I had them all in Mobipocket format because their reader was nice on the Palm, but they offer the books in zipped HTML archives. Since they're not DRMed, and since they keep track of books you've bought and allow re-download, I grabbed a bunch of them as zipped HTML archives, stuck them up on a private server I have (thank you Linode!) and wrote a quick index page into the archive folders for them. So as long as I'm on WiFi or EDGE, I can at least read these using Safari.

    Now, for next steps, I'd love to find a way to write a not-an-app that at least knows how to download and cache the HTML and/or text format ebooks on the iPhone so that I can easily leave network coverage (again, thank you AT&T for your completely shit-tastic service) and not have Safari dump the book I'm reading, as well as take care of basic bookmarking and stuff like that.

    Maybe in my copious free time.

    Posted by jbz at 6:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 5, 2007

    iPhone, days later

    So I've been using the iPhone for around 6 days now. I migrated my phone number from Verizon Wireless, where I'd been a customer for around 12 years, to AT&T/Cingular - because I wanted this phone. Verizon promptly threw a 24-hour hold on my number transfer when I tried to autoactivate the iPhone. I will admit it's only the conspiracy theorist in me that notes that 2 hours before that period was up, I got a hard-press phone call from the Retentions department at Verizon.

    I didn't really enjoy it. I told the lady on the other end of the phone I'd just gotten an iPhone. She made a great effort to sound shocked. "But you've been with us for twelve years!" she exclaimed. "You can't be leaving because of a phone!"

    Um. Yes, actually, I can. See, up until now, all phones have sucked. A lot. I almost left Verizon when I couldn't get a decent Palm phone, but they got theirs out in time, and I stuck around. First for the Kyocera 7135, which was a great phone; then for the Treo 650, which is a crappy phone and middlin' PDA. I stuck with Verizon because I agreed with her next attempt:

    "But we have the best network!"

    Yes ma'am, I said, you surely do. And that's why I've stayed this long. But you cripple features on your phones so I can't use them and you make more money. You cripple dialup access on phones which will do it strictly to get me to buy a data plan. You backslide on 'unlimited' data access plans when people start using them as actual unlimited data plans. You lock down ringtones, multimedia, you name it.

    "But you have to buy your media from Apple now! We have multimedia phones that are just as good as that one!" (that's a quote.)

    Er, no. See, whatever your position on the whole FairPlay DRM kerfluffle, one thing nobody has really denied is that you can always do what I do - which is (for the most part) take your CD collection, rip it into unprotected format, and dump it to your iPod. And now, your iPhone. So no, I don't have to buy my music from Apple. Some of it I do (at last count, it looks like 1.6% or thereabouts of my library- 0.0157, that is.) Most of it, though, comes from the umpty-ump hundred CDs I've bought. Some comes from free downloads, like the entirety of Splashdown's catalogue or the Kleptones. Some, indeed, is illegal music; I won't pretend otherwise. I don't have an easy way to calc that, but it's probably something like 3%-4% of the library from a random sample I grabbed. In any case, it took all my effort not to burst out laughing at her. Your phones are just as good. I know. It's just not fair that nobody buys them, is it.

    I told her that I had really been hoping Verizon had taken the iPhone. I knew that Apple had offered it to Verizon first. As a Verizon customer, I hadn't known that at the time, but had they asked me, I would have told them unequivocally to take it; I would have indicated that (at the time) I was willing to pay what I'd just paid for the iPhone, and to Verizon, and that I'd probably have been willing to incur a small monthly surcharge for it. Indeed, I incurred a $9 higher fee for AT&T's middle rate plan.

    "Oh, but they insulted our company with the offer they made us."

    Well, folks, that's not my problem. That sounds like pride. Which is all well and good, but guess what? I'm your customer. I was for twelve years. I am telling you, now, apparently in the only way that matters, that your pride meant bupkes to me. The network meant something to me as long as the equipment playing field was relatively even. But I consider the iPhone an uneven playing field, and your network doesn't even the gap.

    Dear Verizon: If you haven't figured out yet that you fucked up, well, this won't teach you. If you have figured it out, then this won't mean anything. All it is is a blog post saying I tried to tell you but you weren't listening.

    Having said that to get it off my chest, there are some things Verizon should be proud of. AT&T/Cingular's network, in the Cambridge/Boston area and up to Vermont along I-93/I-89/I-91, is incredibly shitty compared to Verizon's. The whole 'Fewest dropped calls!' claim on AT&T's billboards? Yeah, right. I never really had dropped calls on Verizon enough to notice them; one or two a month, maybe, and usually when I was on the phone with another cell user. So far this week, I've counted fifteen. FIFTEEN. Ten of those when I wasn't moving, and when I was in a five-bar signal area. Your network sucks ass, AT&T.

    Furthermore, coverage is abysmal. Leave the major metro area, and it turns into little islands around towns big enough to have a McDonalds. The nearest tower to my parents' house is apparently some five or six miles away. Verizon had towers along the interstate, or at least coverage; AT&T, nope. Only at the major service towns/areas.

    Is this enough to make me go back to Verizon? In my current life, no. I'm no longer required to be reachable 24 hours a day, and if I were, my answer would be to get a Verizon phone on my company's dime and carry two phones. I hate Verizon phones that much; I'd carry them both just to not have to look at/use the VZW one.

    I've watched seven movies on the iPhone so far. Listened to a Harry Potter book. Haven't made a call using the headset yet. Have been keeping it in a jeans pocket (albeit with nothing else in there) and it seems quite happy. No scratching, creaking, feeling of 'ooh I'll damage it.'

    Went 2.5 days without recharging, in which I watched 1.5 movies and listened to 1/4 of Goblet of Fire. Didn't make more than a call or two, but the phone stayed on standby the whole time, although it was out of service area for a good fifteen of those hours.

    Happy happy as clam.

    Posted by jbz at 7:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 2, 2007

    This is, indeed, me.

    Posted by jbz at 12:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 29, 2007

    My TiVo

    I've always been extremely ambivalent about upgrading my venerable Sony series 1 TiVo because the newer ones have either lacked features that made them worthy (Series 2) or were ridiculously expensive (Series 3). After the Series 3 price drop, the cost factor became less of an issue; however, TiVo carefully didn't do so until after expiring the Lifetime Subscription transfer period, which made my decision not to get one easier. So long as my original box works, it's just not worth it.

    Then I came across this on the internet:

    "Grandfather transfer: The one-time "Grandfather transfer" (for people who purchased Product Lifetime on or before January 21, 2000, and who have not already used their one-time transfer) is still allowed and will also be honored for future hardware releases from TiVo, such as the Series3. If you have any trouble when you call, please mention KDB code 09-07-04 to the agent."

    The Grandfather Transfer was free, IIRC. Can such things be? Must check. If so, this would force a revision of my entire TiVo buying avoidance strategy.

    Posted by jbz at 1:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 27, 2007

    iPod wasn't the first disk-based MP3 player

    ...and the iPhone won't be the first WiFi(/WiMax)-VoIP and Cell phone. But I still stand by my cocky prediction that it will be the best of the lot.

    Posted by jbz at 2:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 25, 2007

    Duke Blue Spyder

    Just got my Duke Blue Spyder from HisNibs.com (a fine pen buying experience, I might add, purely as a satisfied customer). I like this pen already. It's solid without being too heavy; the cap is quite weighty and posting or not posting can significantly change the pen's balance as you choose. The nib (I got a standard medium) actually writes a deal finer than my Sheaffer Medium. The weight of the pen and the highly curved nib (it curves around the barrel) mean that there is very little vibration of the nib when writing; it's quite difficult to make the pen 'skip' or scratch. The beading on the nib is quite good; while there's no plane to it (so no variation in line width easily noticeable) that's okay. The smoothness of the pen more than makes up for it.

    Only had it an hour or so; put in a couple of pages of text with it. My hand still likes it a lot. Only complaint is standard for new pens, made worse by the design of this one; the clip is extremely tight and refuses to 'catch' on a pocket-tee pocket; whatever.

    Posted by jbz at 4:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 6, 2007

    New Gear

    Given that living past Applecare officially makes a Powerbook 'old', and that such had happened to my faithful G4/1Ghz, I have been waiting avidly for Apple to release updated MacBook Pro machines. My new employers had promised me the Mac of my choice, and I'd even told them to just hold off.

    So yesterday rolled around, I got into the office, and the CTO strolled over and said "So we hitting the Apple Store?"

    I said "They release?"



    Before we could escape the office, the CEO heard us talking and leaned over. "Wait, new Pros? Man, this X41 is annoying."

    Off we went. The CEO confessed, while giggling (which was awesome in a 6'6" mid-fifties guy in great shape with distinguished greying temples) "I've never done anything like this before."

    To which the CTO and I responded (since we're of an age) "What, been a geek in a pack?"

    Got to the flagship store found a T-shirt wearer. "MacBook Pro. Gimmes."

    "One MacBook Pro..."

    "Count noses, junior."

    "Oh! Um, three MacBook Pros?"

    "Yeah. 15 inchers."

    Names taken, we headed off for the cashier. Thus spake the CTO, throwing down a titanium Amex: "Haiiiiiii-yAAAA!"

    There was laughter from the cashiers. They were women. I hear titanium Amexes have this effect on them. I wouldn't know, I've never held one.

    Anyway, surgical strike, mission accomplished, whee, off we went amidst hilarity and joking. Three men, three small black boxes, three foolish grins, and three web browsers to OWC to order 4GB upgrade kits.

    I like my new 'book a lot. Fast, the LED backlit screen is bright and fast to respond. The color temp is quite high, but it's hard to tell if that's because the screen is so much newer than my G4 rather than because it's a different backlighting tech; the panel on the G4 is noticeably yellowed. It's just like looking at my 1-yr-old iMac next to my original Cinema Display. In a way, movies look much better on the warmer yellowed panels, but details are more visible on the brighter ones. I'm not anal enough to have color profiles for each task.

    The MagSafe is nice, and it's strong enough that I don't bump it out when using the 'Book in my lap. It does get pretty warm, but so did my G4 - I don't actually really notice a difference. Haven't used it very hard yet.

    AirPort reception is definitely improved.

    One problem I've been having is power management. I packed it to go home yesterday at 100% charge; when I got home about 25 minutes later and took it out of my bag, I noticed as I drew it out that the Apple logo was lit. I put it on the table without opening it and waited. After about five seconds, the logo dimmed again. Shaking the closed laptop didn't cause it to light up again for several tries, but on the fourth or fifth round of shaking, the logo lit up again. When I opened the laptop after letting it darken again, it took a while to awaken (I think I didn't give it enough time to go down properly) and the battery was down to 71%. I think it was waking up in my bag on my way home; either that, or it never slept properly, I'm not sure which.

    This is a brand new model. I might have a dodgy latch/closure sensor, or there might be a firmware problem. More likely the former. I'll wait to see if anyone else reports problems.

    Since my first two were named Shadowfax (my TiBook 500) and Pale Horse (the AlBook 1Ghz), this one is thus titled Athansor.

    Posted by jbz at 3:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 30, 2007

    They're throwing FUD again!

    The problem is the FUD is losing its consistency. Steve Ballmer, interviewed on USA Today's site:
    Q: People get passionate when Apple comes out with something new — the iPhone; of course, the iPod. Is that something that you'd want them to feel about Microsoft?

    A: It's sort of a funny question. Would I trade 96% of the market for 4% of the market? (Laughter.) I want to have products that appeal to everybody.

    Now we'll get a chance to go through this again in phones and music players. There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It's a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I'd prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.

    So let's see. First of all, where did that 96% market share come from? Ah, yes, the Windows share of desktops, at least according to Microsoft. Fair enough. But note: that has nothing to do with the question asked. Nor does it have anything to do with his next point, which is all about the iPhone - because nobody has 96% of the cell phone OS market, least of all MS. Nor do they have anywhere near the '60-80%' he brackets his bleak prediction of iPhone market share with.

    Ballmer is forced to admit that yes, indeed, that with the iPhone Apple 'might make a lot of money.' But that's not what he wants. He wants market share.

    This from a man whose company just rushed a Toshiba-built DAP onto the market with a resounding whimper?

    We'll see, Steve B.

    Posted by jbz at 7:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 27, 2007

    Blast from the Past: More things to do on the Acela!

    DEFCON is good if you're solo. What to do if you're on the Acela with another person? My friendly neighborhood sci-fi store has the answer, in the form of something I thought was long gone...but apparently is back in production. They were as surprised as I was when it showed up in the distributor's catalog, and I promptly reserved the first copy they got.


    Oh, Spaceship ZNUTAR, I have missed you.

    Posted by jbz at 4:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 13, 2007

    The Economist Misses the Point Entirely

    The Economist snerks that Apple has 'missed' by making the iPhone an EDGE device as opposed to, say, EV-DO. They say that the age and slow speed of EDGE (AT&T/Cingular's data service) is such that it is easily eclipsed by offerings from Verizon and future WiMax rollouts, and that the iPhone is crippled by design for relying on GSM cellular and EDGE.

    Well, there are a couple of problems with that analysis. First, Apple didn't originally pitch the iPhone to an EDGE provider, if we recall - they pitched it to Verizon, who has (ta-daa) that same EV-DO that the Econ is so hopped on. Verizon, however, didn't like Apple's terms and took a pass. No doubt The Big E would tell us that Apple's arrogance blew its chances of having a modern data network.

    The second point is that the iPhone is only at most tangentially about the radio platform. The technology at that level is entirely irrelevant to the iPhone as a market strategy. Apple users don't want to know what frequency the gizmo works on- they just want it to work well, and smoothly. If AT&T/Cingular was willing to make the investments to make some of the cooler UI bits work (random-access voicemail, finally) then going with them was the right choice, by this philosophy.

    Third, as I've muttered about before, the iPhone offers Apple a chance - if it works - to give the entire cellular industry (and not just EV-DO) a sharp stick in the eye. By moving to a WiMax/WiFi radio handset in a later model, and moving to a VoIP framework for voice transmission using a routing, billing and management (not radio) back-end infrastructure that Apple controls itself (and bills for) they can change the entire game. They can do that without violating any exclusivity agreement with AT&T, if that agreement describes 'cellular handsets.' Want to take bets?

    Posted by jbz at 6:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 23, 2007


    BAM. Need me a flat white box now.

    I have to wonder if Apple is planning on doing something deviousweasel like doing a filesystem checksum a lá Tripwire during firmware updates, or just vacuuming out unauthorized add-on files (like Perian).

    Posted by jbz at 11:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


    ...no, I don't have one, and no, I haven't ordered one. I'm waiting for the inevitable blog post which explains how, precisely, to get DivX codecs installed on the thing. Then the credit card comes slashing down with the whistling ring of multiply-folded Damascus steel through sinew and flesh.

    Recent posts stating that the thing runs a stripped version of OS X give me hope that there will be a sneaky way to just dump the QT codec on there somehow.

    Posted by jbz at 11:49 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 26, 2007

    Wow. Just...wow.

    Soyburger is my hero.

    Now that I think about it, I have, um, lessee...

    • Apple II+
    • Lisa
    • Mac Plus
    • Mac SE
    • Mac Classic
    • Mac IIx
    • Mac IIvx
    • Mac LC500(?)
    • Quadra 650
    • Performa somethingsomething flat
    • Performa 650
    • PowerMac 8500
    • PowerMac G3
    • PowerMac G4
    • iBook orange
    • iMac teal
    • iMac lamp
    • iMac grape
    • Powerbook G4
    • Powerbook 2300 somewhere, still inside the powered Dock
    • Newton OMP
    • Newton 120
    • Newton 2100
    • Intel iMac 20"
    ...whimper. I am a loser. I could probably quickly lay hands on a TAM, too.

    Posted by jbz at 3:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 23, 2007

    I think it's my Treo 650

    I had a Palm Bluetooth headset for my Treo 650 that *never* worked. As in, if it was more than 12 inches from the phone, or on the other side of my head from the phone, it produced torrents of static. I just assumed the BT in the Treo was ass, until I tested my co-worker's identical headset from his 650, and it worked acceptably. Several months later (last week) I purchased a Jabra BT-125 headset at a Cingular store for $40. Charged it up, paired it today, no problem. The problem: It doesn't answer calls. No matter if I 'tap,' 'press' or 'hold', the damn cell phone keeps ringing away. If I tap/press/hold in various random manners when the phone isn't ringing, eventually it will call my voice mail. A single tap will cause the BT icon to invert; a few taps later, it un-inverts, if it hasn't called the voicemail by then.

    I have no idea what the hell it's doing. All I can surmise is my initial impression of the Treo; it's both a mediocre Palm and a fairly craptastic phone. Every review on the 'net I can find seems to like the BT-125 and claims not only does it work well with the Treo but does all these neat tricks like reject calls and speed dial and hoo-ha.

    Yeah, well, bullshit, not on mine.

    I suppose mine is just broken, or some such. Good luck getting that fixed, I guess, since it demonstrably *will* work with a Palm headset. Just not the one *I* paid for.

    Fucking thing.

    Where's my iPhone? Even if it is on fucking Cingular, I swear to God.

    Posted by jbz at 1:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 18, 2007

    More musings on the iPhone

    I still hate Apple for making Cingular their cell victi...er, partner, with the iPhone. But my annoyance is tempered by a speculation that a friend and I shared while admitting to one another our carnal lust for the device. It's certainly been bandied about that Apple recently purchased some significant data center space; it had been hypothesized that this was because Apple was about to embark on MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) exploits to support the iPhone. In other words, they would be acting as a cell carrier by leasing access time on other companies' actual radio infrastructure, if I have the terminology correct. The datacenter, in that case, would be needed to perform the back-end support for a 'virtual cell network' - billing, switching, data support services especially in the high-data iPhone.

    What happened?

    Hm. Well, let's look. Cingular is trumpeting that they have an exclusive lock on 'handset products' coming out of Apple, or in some cases they say 'cellular products.' I (and my more perspicacious friend Glen and the various analysts we droolingly read) decided that the latter is more likely correct. Apple was clear that essentially all of the back-end support tasks for the iPhone rollout are being handled by Cingular; they mentioned several times that Cingular made 'changes' to their infrastructure to properly handle the iPhone. Since it offers standard Cingular GSM service, all billing and base data infrastructure tasks will be handled by Cingular's existent (or upgraded) systems.

    However, Apple also made a point to reference the iPhone's ability to hand off between cellular (EDGE) and WiFi seamlessly for data use. Therein, we think, lies the key.

    Sooner or later, WiMax or truly pervasive WiFi will be available. Maybe even sooner. As soon as that happens, there is essentially nothing that stops Apple from producing an iPhone that only has a data-based connection - WiMax, WiFi, both - and using a VoIP client of their own on the iPhone to handle any voice communications tasks.

    At that point, that massive data center expansion suddenly becomes key, as Apple would need to begin offering the standard services a cell provider offers its customers - voicemal storage, data accounts and pipe, billing services, etc. etc. But at the same time, you would now have an iPhone that had absolutely nothing to do with the existing cellular infrastructure.

    No partners needed to provide infrastructure Apple didn't control. Or, perhaps, a variety of available partners who offer a single pervasive access technology (WiMax, let's say) rather than the lock-in and exclusionary cellular radio infrastructure they've been forced to tie themselves to with the Cingular deal. iPhones could theoretically hop networks as agilely as Apple could make them in order to support continuous VoIP services, without bothering the user - something Apple is famous for.

    Apple is poised to potentially bypass, and (smaller chance) really, really slam the cellular industry monopoly on mobile communications.

    Once you had the iPhone/Data, of course, and controlled the software back end gateway to it, as Apple would, then suddenly your additional business of content delivery becomes a very attractive add-on. If Verizon can (or thinks it can) make money by offering crappy content at $2 a song over cellular infrastructure, just imagine what Apple could do with a better front end, a proven content delivery solution, and an industry-ingrained consumer price of half that which still allows them to make some money.

    More concrete predictions: We'll see an iPod with a hard drive using the iPhone form factor and interface, likely before the iPhone ships; probably in the next couple of months. It may have a larger screen for video use, allowing better storage/battery. It may, or its successors may, have WiFi capabilities which may be (less likely) hooked into the precursor of Apple's mobile content/communications back end system. It will be an iPod, not a phone, and will be emphasized as such by Apple. It won't have VoIP. It won't handle communications, because without the cellular component it won't be able to do so reliably enough to be a comms device. But the germ will be there.

    By this time next year? I'm betting on a VoIP data-only iPhone. Maybe with a different name to sidestep both Cisco and Cingular.

    Man, I love living in the future. I just wish it didn't make me into such a kool-aid swilling crack addict.

    Posted by jbz at 9:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 9, 2007

    Steve Jobs, I hate you.

    Mostly my wallet does, actually.


    Well, let's see. The AppleTV - I don't know. On the one hand, it's exactly what I want to make my TV usable again, given that I mostly download TV show episodes and have ripped my DVDs onto my computer. On the other hand, if it wll only watch H.264 and MPEG-4 format video, that's going to be a problem if the newly-announced SlingCatcher is $100 less and doesn't care what video codec I'm using. We'll see.

    The iPhone. Oh dear Darwin. This is what I want, yes, yes, yes. OS X. Yes. Multitouch screen, iPod functions, Wifi, bluetooth, GPS enabled, sensors, YES he said YES! Oh, fuck me, wait, Cingular? *whimper*. If I absolutely have to, but for fuck's sake, drive a stake through me, why don't you, it's easier. I live in Cambridge, MA and those fuckers still can't get a signal into my apartment. I can see the famous Jobsian ego coming up against the Verizon Phone Company arrogance and there never ever being an iPhone that worked with CDMA - and even approving - but that doesn't mean I gotta like it. At least that network works, here.


    Posted by jbz at 2:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 21, 2006

    I Think This Speaks To My Inner Maniac.

    ...the one who wants to spend roughly a dollar a second on paintballs. But so worth it for the looks on their faces just before they vanish under a hail of paint and biodegradable capsule.

    Posted by jbz at 1:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 18, 2006

    Spud GUNZ0R

    Okay, this rules.

    Posted by jbz at 5:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 6, 2006

    Suspension of Model Train Disbelief

    The inimitable Jacob Berkman has a link on his blog to a video which did two things for me. One, it made me instantly and burningly nostalgic for the Lionel Train sets my father gave my brother and I, which there's no way I could afford to buy now what with Lionel being worth more than gold these days or some such crap. Two, it made me realize what it was about model trains that always broke the illusion for me, no matter how much backdrop, scenery, squinting and low-light I applied. Yes, I realize that every model railroader (of which I am not) probably knows this, but I hadn't. See, even when you get the scale speed correct (which isn't hard) the problem is always the turns. While real trains can go around turns as sharp as you find in a model train set, they never, ever do so at any speed higher than a crawl. Hence, seeing the model stock zipping around the corners is what breaks the illusion for me.

    Update: My pedantic-because-he's-correct brother informs me that one reason for the 'strangeness' is the ratio of gauge to car length, reflected in Lionel trains by the 'O' rating. The O rating determines the minimum radius of a full turn of track in inches; most Lionel O gauge stock is O27, which (as my bro points out) is waaaay shorter w.r.t gauge than reality. This is true. Lionel makes other engines, though, some of which go all the way up to O72 (mostly the more insanely detailed and hence expensive steam replicas) - these, by nature, would be unable to make those sharp turns I described above and hence would be restricted to curves that would ameliorate that sense of wrongness.

    Also, Jacob tells me that of course one can set up a train set to slow down in the curves. He said it with a great deal more disdain for my ignorance than I can convey here, all of which, I'm sad to say, was warranted.

    Posted by jbz at 8:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 19, 2006

    The power of a man and his shed.

    Oh yeah.


    Posted by jbz at 1:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 5, 2006

    WTF is bixxerfouping?

    ...I don't care. I have ordered a small friend to call my own.

    His color code is 3-25-18.

    Cheridy says "i just love how he's got four little feet, ears, face, bellybutton and -nipples-."


    Posted by jbz at 10:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    LART - this year's model.

    I need to put brackets over my desk. I have found the One True LART.

    It is here.

    Thank you Gizmodo.

    Posted by jbz at 10:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 22, 2006

    Realize your childhood fantasies

    In fucking spades. Man. I just found out that I met this gentleman once - at least I'm pretty sure I did (my Bacon number to him is 2; my college roommate knows him). This is completely awesome, and makes my petty attempts to realize fantasy by obtaining arcade machines look completely weak.

    If I had done this magnificent thing, I think the first thing I would do is make a high-quality loop of, say, the season two theme. Then I'd take off the T-Tops, crank that bad boy up to around 120 MPH on a good road and start yelling my ass off to the voiceover of the theme while grinning like a fool.

    Awwwww yeah.

    Posted by jbz at 11:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 6, 2006

    Interstella 5555

    Aw, yeah.

    If you've seen the movie you know what I'm talkin' about.

    Posted by jbz at 2:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 4, 2006

    Top Gear produces severe slobbering.

    Case in point.

    The Vanwall GPR V12.

    Jaguar V-12. Aluminum body. Replica of 1958-ish F1 cars. Street legal. And for god's sake...

    British Racing Green.


    Posted by jbz at 5:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    April 15, 2006

    We are not worthy.

    Are we not men? Where have the certifiably crazy motherfuckers gone? Jalopnik thinks they've found one willing to take up the legacy and banish the 'long cold Carter winter.' Rock right on.

    Posted by jbz at 10:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 2, 2006

    More DRM - The Audio Flag tries to get a foot in the door.

    Just when the Broadcast Flag returns from the dead for the bazillionth time, resurrected by industry lobbying money, a new variant pops in - the 'Audio Flag,' intended to prevent timeshifting of digital radio content. Engadget's 'The Clicker' weighs in, asking if perhaps the Audio Flag might have a couple things going for it. I felt compelled to email a reply. Contents of that email after the jump.

    While I take your point re: the Audio Flag and song play, I'd like to offer some in return that I've no doubt you've heard but which I feel compelled to support nonetheless.

    First, the 'library from radio' option has been available since the cheap availability of boom boxes with built-in cassette recorders which recorded directly from the audio input. I myself have around forty cassettes of music recorded directly from radio stations in the 1980s, which saw an *awful* lot of use. The notion that this is a new problem which poses *new* challenges is a bit stretched.

    Second, there was a response then which is still valid - the concept of releasing only certain songs for radio play. 'Singles' were released to sell *albums*. This fell into the dust when MTV and radiocassettes and CDs became popular - why? probably (IMHO) because the random-access nature of CDs and the hevay-single-promotion of MTV meant that the album as a form became less important. Hence the large number of albums containing the 'golden two singles' and lots of crappy tunes. But why should I accept restrictions on my content in order to allow artists/producers to shove those other 8-10 crappy tracks onto me?

    Third, the option is always available to record companies to offer licenses for digital airplay at restricted bitrates. What's wrong with that? It's a choice that *they* make, and that the consumers (radio stations, and indirectly, listeners) can then choose to validate or not. Market at work. Radio was always of relatively reduced quality compared to purchasing the music anyway, which is why I have CDs of most of those songs recorded on that stack of cassettes.

    Fourth, the problem is that we're not talking about making the audio flag *available*. We're talking about making it *mandatory*, on the equipment side at least. This is all well and good if you absolutely trust those on the other end of your content flow to *not* put the flag on things that you think it shouldn't apply to, but I would submit that that's an intolerably naive point of view. Look at Tivo: in the first few weeks their own 'unsaveable' flag was available, they managed to apply it *by mistake* to a whole raft of content, which meant their users had no option and no recourse when that content vanished.

    J.B. Zimmerman

    Posted by jbz at 8:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 16, 2006

    Where oh where has Sharp Tools been?

    Er. Well, um. See. You know how they always tell you to make a backup? Yeh. And you know how I'm a system administrator, so I should REALLY KNOW THAT? Yeh, uh-huh. Well, there's good news and bad news. The good news: I had a backup when my server shit the bed. The bad news: it was in such a state that given its state and my laziness and the fact that it was Baconfest, it was a much better bet to wait until I returned and see if I could resurrect the machine in situ rather than try to reproduce the installation using said backup, which while having all the data didn't have all the software install configs and the like.

    So, whee, we're back.

    Not like anyone reads this thing. :-)

    Posted by jbz at 6:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    December 12, 2005


    Man...I can see it now..."Car, forward, overdrive, engage. Tea, Earl Grey, Hot."

    Posted by jbz at 5:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 30, 2005

    Bluetooth and iSync 2

    Apple has modified their Tech Note on syncing a Palm Device with a Macintosh. If you're using iSync 2 (part of OS X 10.4 Tiger) and Bluetooth, you probably should have a look. I haven't tried it with my Treo 650 yet, but will in the near future. I had the Treo working OK, but not with my desktop Mac, just the Powerbook...I have to see if what they recommend conflicts with my earlier ramblings on the subject.

    Posted by jbz at 2:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 19, 2005

    Am I 'deep full' or 'pear shaped'?

    I've long been obsessed with getting a classic style hat that actually fits me. It's been non-trivial, since I not only have a fairly swelled head but a Jew-fro that varies in length actively between trimmings. Essentially, I've been waiting until I happened to walk past an actual hatter, with the time to wander in, and the room in my bank account. The fact that I dress in T-shirts much of the time doesn't help. The internet, of course, means that suddenly hats are available to me without waiting for this happy confluence of circumstance.

    One problem with this plan was wondering what type of hat I would look for. However, I was fascinated to find this guide to hat types while poking around. What kind of face are you?

    Posted by jbz at 12:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 15, 2005


    Snif. Ah well. I think it actually made the dollar/day period. But apparently poor li'l Gir decided he didn't like icepacks on his li'l 'luminum backside, no sirree.

    Doomy doom doom doom doomy doom doom doom doom doo-o-om!

    Thank you for playing, gentlemen...the eternal battle for the domination of J.B.'s wallet begins...target...iPod...value...$299...BEGIN!

    I already have a Nano. But now I don't have a 'pod that works in the car. I don't want to spend the money. But the 5G comes in black! I don't need one. But I didn't need any of 'em. The new one does video! ...and I don't give a crap.

    Sigh. It's gonna be a loud few weeks in my head.

    Oh, no. I just realized I have to drive 3 hours to Thanksgiving in a week. AIIIGH. Well, the new model won't fit the holder in the car anyway.

    Posted by jbz at 9:42 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    October 25, 2005

    Unhappy iPod

    My 4G iPod (Clickwheel) has been a bit of a problem child for around a year. For reasons best left unexplored (*cough*laziness*cough*) it got sent back when under warranty, but when they didn't fix the actual problem and sent it back, I didn't successfully fight them and return it again before the warranty expired. The problem was that it worked acceptably at the time, so long as I didn't try to transfer music to it...and I had to get on a plane for Scotland...and...yeh.

    In any case, it finally packed it in a month or so ago. This left me with a dilemma. I could, of course, have simply held out for an iPod Video, which was all the rage at the time on the rumor sites - even if not video, it was pretty clear something was happening in the iPod space. But that would have meant violating my dollar-a-day rule.

    The rule is simple - toys must amortize out to no more than a dollar a day. Exceptions to this are actual full computers and cars - both because actual work gets done on them. But things like iPods, GameBoys (if I had one which I don't), PDA upgrades I don't need but buy anyway - that kind of thing. I have to use the thing for long enough that it works out to a dollar a day before I'm allowed to buy another one.

    I'd already sort of violated that by buying an iPod Nano. My rationalization was that the iPod 4G was pretty much ensconced in the car at this point, and the nano was my walking-around iPod. Yeah, I know, it's thin. But the iPod still worked, so I wasn't replacing it...thin, thin, thin. Still, rationalization is a talent!

    The upshot was that I had (and still have) a couple of months left before my 4G reaches 'rule amortization' date. So I can't replace it. Having it repaired out of warranty would probably cost the same as buying a new 30G (I checked). Third-party repairs would run not much less at all, since it's probably drive-related, and the drives...aren't cheap.

    The issue is that copying music (or anything) onto the iPod causes it to freeze up randomly somewhere in the process. Once it does, you have to reboot it and disconnect it. Doing so usually doesn't do anything other than force you to reconnect it - but every fifteen to twenty times you do this, the iPod corrupts itself, requiring you to wipe it to zero and start over. You get the 'folder and url' boot screen, or the 'folder and exclamation mark' boot screen, meaning 'I'm lobotomized.' Only using 'restore iPod to factory settings' will help, which kills everything you've copied so far. Given that I keep around 20G of music on the thing, and this happens reliably within the first thousand songs, that's not too good.

    Once it crashes, it loses all the songs that were being synced in that session. If you're manually syncing, that means 'every song you just dragged' not 'every song since you plugged it in' which is good - it means you can plug it in and start dragging groups of 5-15 songs over, in the hopes of slowly moving your library. But then, there's that gotcha - every fifteen, maybe twenty crashes, it takes everything on the iPod and nukes it. And believe me, you always find those five songs you just have to have.

    Finally I realized something - it was crashing more frequently as I went along.


    So I put an icepack under the aluminum back of the iPod (with some paper between them to prevent condensing moisture). Then I let it sit for about 2 minutes to cool, crossed my fingers and ran a full sync.

    It just finished dumping 2,567 songs. Not a hitch.

    w00t. Just to be safe, I renamed its little white spastic self 'Gir'.

    Posted by jbz at 1:14 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    October 5, 2005

    Measurement vs. Rote

    For reasons best left unstated, I was driving home the other day in a Ford Taurus that recently belonged to me. While doing so, the reading on the tachometer forced its way into my attention, likely because the instrument was placed differently than I am used to on my regular car and because the value it was reporting at idle differed as well. I noticed something odd about said tach, which bothered me so much I'm still thinking about it, and here we are.

    The tach is extremely standard - it's an analog dial, with white markings scribed along the outside rim. Its major (labeled) tick marks indicate RPMs x 1000. This makes sense. What didn't make sense to me was that the unlabeled tick marks were placed such that there were five between each thousand point. I was at a loss to discover why this was so. The purpose of the tach seemed to me to be to measure the RPM of the engine in a manner that allowed it to be compared to numbers in a reference as well as compared to other values from experience. Sure, it's not going to be the most accurate thing in the world, and people are going to estimate and round. But if I have performed my crappy arithmetic properly, each of those tick marks denotes 166.6-bar RPMs.

    What good does that do me?

    Sure, the *middle* one is 500 RPMs. Woo. But why *two* on either side?

    I know, I worry about stupid stuff.

    "What's your engine idling at?"

    "Uh, eight hundred thirty-three bar."

    Which it was, too.

    Posted by jbz at 11:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 14, 2005

    Here Endeth the Nannywidget

    So Darthwagen, despite being the car of my dreams and my willing partner in automotive crime, has suffered these past ten months we've been together. He has suffered from the automotive equivalent of the V-chip, placed there for some inexplicable reason by his makers.

    But precision tool and gentle hand hath wrought his freedom from the restriction on his hydraulic sinews, and here, here is the evil scab:


    ...and it shall darken our shifting no more.

    No more.

    Posted by jbz at 5:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 29, 2005

    The problem with owning collectables

    ...is that they break. Usually when you don't have the time and/or skills to fix them yourself. I tried to outsource the last set of repairs to two of my babies before parking them at the home of some kindly friends (they won't fit through my own doors, worse luck). Less than three weeks later, however, both were down again. Given that it took a truck which cost $150 to rent and a day of my time to move them from the shop to their current resting place, one way, without even getting into the money I"ve spent repairing them, it doesn't look like they're going back there.

    It's a pity. They did a great job with the first one. Now I have to worry about the other three of mine they currently have...sigh...

    Posted by jbz at 2:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 26, 2005

    Treo 650 - the new crapness


    New symptom: ET won't phone. Home or anywhere else.

    Yesterday, I had decided that VZW/Palm's firmware update breaking Ringo couldn't realistically be gotten around. So I hard-reset the Treo, removed Ringo from my software backup, removed all my 'questionable' software from the backup, and resynced the Treo. It worked fine at that point. All my data was on it, and all my critical software (Taipan, the VZW software suite as updated with the latest patch, my Backup app on the SD card, a couple of ebooks). I used the phone yesterday, and it worked as well as usual. At some point I backed it up to the SD card, and continued to use it.

    On the way out of the office, I noted that the ringtone had been reset to the annoying default bong by the hard reset, so I changed it to one of the other default ringtones. I called it from my desk to test the ringtone; worked fine. I dropped it on my belt.

    Once in my car, I recalled that I needed to tell my car service folks I wasn't going to be bringing my car in the next day for service. Pulled over, knuckled out their number on the screen, hit dial. Nothing. Looked down - the Treo's gone into soft-reset. The palmOne logo is still visible on the screen. WTF?

    Wait for it to come back, and the radio's now off. Turn it back on. Dial from the keyboard, hit the hard phone dial button. The Treo soft resets.

    Okay. Now I'm pissed.

    Open the thing, soft-reset it manually. Wait for it to come back. Dial *611. Hit dial. Soft-reset.

    At that moment, a friend calls me and the phone picks up. I deal with that call, and try calling out again. Soft-reset.

    Try disabling Bluetooth. Nope.

    Desperate now. Hard-reset the phone and erase all data. The phone boots back up (yes, for those keeping track, I'm pulled over, I did so at the start :-)) and I turn on the radio. Now it dials out, but I have no data or apps.

    I fire up the backup app on my SD card and tell it to restore the phone. It asks if it should restore the databases for which there are newer versions on the phone (i.e. the ones which the phone creates during hard-reset). I say no, forcing it to only restore my applications and their associated data, but not to restore any VZW/phone related prefs or data. This should tell me if it's a rogue app killing the phone.

    The phone works fine.

    I perform a full restore, including my phone prefs and data. Note that these prefs and data were created by the Treo at the last hard-reset, and populated by HotSync - not restored to the phone. They're native databases.

    Dial soft-resets the phone.

    So, the long and the short of it: At some point, the Treo corrupted its own internal prefs or data storage to the point where hitting 'dial' in the phone app soft-reset the device, making it unusable as a phone. Note that between the time it worked and the time it did not work I did not HotSync, nor make any changes to any databases or prefs other than changing the default ringtones and backing up the phone to the external card.

    I was fortunate in that I a) had a backup of my phone on my SD card, and b) had my laptop in the car with which I regularly sync my phone. Had I been on the road and in need of those contacts, I would have been completely out of luck. Oh, unless, of course, I pay VZW $50/month for unlimited data traffic and am willing to store my personal data on their internet servers and had performed a 'WirelessSync' prior to this occurring. However, even if I had, I can't tell you with assurance that that would have fixed this, because I have never used their solution. If that solution only backs up the prefs/database files, then it would have faithfully backed up the corrupt ones, just as my backup program did.

    Now, it's true, the backup process to SD could be flawed. However, I have successfully backed up and restored this phone to SD using this app several times - albeit not since the 1.03VZW firmware patch, I'll admit. After backing up, though, the phone continued to work - which to me indicates that it's unlikely that the act of backing it up screwed up the phone.

    When restoring the data, I restored the data, then soft-reset the phone before attempting to use it in order to ensure that the Palm reloaded the newly-restored files. There were no error messages during the backup or restore.

    I'm not sure what the hell happened. All I know is that the damn thing decided to stop working, in a really inconvenient manner, at a really inconvenient time, in such a way that were I not an obsessive geek it would have been really hard to recover from.

    While I got phone functionality back by hard-reset, I was short all my useful data at that point. Furthermore, I don't consider knowing how to hard-reset a Treo 650 something that the 'average user' should have to retain in their head. Calling tech support? Wouldn't have been an option, that's what didn't work.

    Not what I call 'ready for primetime' boys and girls. Fucking take this thing back and get it right.

    Posted by jbz at 3:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 23, 2005

    Treo 650 from the Kyocera 7135 (both on Verizon)

    I 'upgraded' to the Treo 650 because my Kyo was getting creaky (zero key getting strange, battery wearing down) and Verizon's Data group told me that essentially they couldn't replace it for me because they weren't getting any more of them. The New Hotness was the Treo 650. That was my option.

    This made me sad, because I didn't really want the Treo 650. The Kyocera did everything I really wanted it to do, save perhaps Bluetooth and having a fast enough processor to run ssh. But progress marches on. I've become used to not being able to replace watches or sneakers I like- penalty of living in this consumerist culture, and not having enough money to buy really nice stuff that in fact they keep making year after year - but having enough money to find the model I really like out of those available. I know, I know, crocodile tears, I'm shutting up now.

    So anyway, here I am with the Treo 650. I've had it a couple of weeks, I suppose, maybe a week and a half. Upshot: Still don't like it. Usually I'm over the moon with tech toys. I really like the PalmOS despite its creaking age, even though I'd rather have my Newton back - because for the ultrasmall formfactor, and for the limited PIM functions I'd like my phone/convergence device to have, the PalmOS works for me much better than WinCE does. And I'm just. Not. Running. That. Piece. Of. Shit.

    In any case, the Treo is really...a compromise. The main problem I have with it is that it breaks the One Really Good Thing about the Kyocera: the Kyocera was, first and foremost, a bulletproof damn phone. Verizon was anal about releasing it, which may have led to its untimely demise; it may have had a slow processor for the time when it finally came out. But damn it, that phone would pull in four-or five-bar service inside elevators in the Boston metro area on the VZW network. I could make calls in the subway. I almost never dropped calls, unless I was moving at high speed and/or near obvious interference. I got a Digital signal almost all the way up to my parents' house in northeastern Vermont- and only when I finally dipped down into the last valley did the 'D' vanish off the status display.

    The Kyo is a damn tank. The flip opens and closes solidly. There is a story that they were aiming for the feel of a Mercedes car door - and they achieved it, or at least, the 'phone equivalent. Two years in, and the keys may have been going- but the flip action was rock-solid and felt it. No latch required. I gravity-tested that thing onto brick and concrete fifty or sixty times - nothing more than some light scratching around the edges, where the phone was textured for grip anyway.

    I like Graffiti, personally. The separate Graffiti area meant more screen real estate. It meant I was slower on SMS and contact entry than thumboarding friends, but whatever. I could still play Taipan and Dopewars, so who cared? It would have been nice to have a CPU that didn't stagger on MP3s beefier than 96Kbps, but again, meh.

    So long, trusty friend. Verizon explained through doubletalk that the 'NAM programming' for the Kyocera is no longer being updated. Treo, here we come.

    The Treo is a PDA with phone functionality. It shows. It's a PDA shape, and using it as a phone sucks for me. I have to hold it at exactly the right angle to my head to get sound from the earpiece - and the candybar formfactor means no holding it with my shoulder. I need to use the earpiece. The bluetooth earpiece (from Palm) has crappy sound if it's more than a foot or two from the phone, especially if it's on the other side of my head. Either I have neutronium tooth fillings, or this thing is not too impressive. Plus, the loudest setting on it rates 'whisper' in my book - and I wasn't a fan of The Who in my younger days. My hearing isn't too bad.

    Most unforgivable - reception sucks. In places my Kyo got 4 or 5 bars, this phone strains to eke out 1 or 2. If I turn off Bluetooth and reset the radio (cycle the phone), it will sometimes bump to 2 or 3. But not always. And then how am I going to take the call? With the headset cord that plugs into the bottom of the damn thing?

    Dialing? Um, yeah. Numbers buried in the crap-feeling keyboard, or use the screen. No tactile feedback there, so...nope. And the keyboard numbers are lost in a sea of identical chiclets. No feedback, aural or otherwise, when using the headset. Finally, the fucking thing shuts off after around ten seconds and locks down the keys - and I haven't found a way to disable that. I'm sure it's easy, but all I know is that two Verizon guys admitted that they haven't found a way to stop it doing that either. Which means that during a phone call, the screen can shut down. And then, guess what? the button that I normally press to get the screen back when the phone is off is the 'power' button. But during a call? Yep. It hangs up.

    Battery life? Seems OK. the Kyo was a rock there too, and this one seems fine as well. Palms have always done OK by me on battery, so no complaints.

    Verizon, on the other hand, seems to have gone out of their way to cripple this thing. They seem to want me to purchase their 'wireless unlimited data plan' badly. Very badly. Although I finally did get it to Bluetooth Sync, I haven't ventured too far into trying to get it to work with email, because that seems to start tossing huge amounts of packets around all the time, at $0.15/k. Time to upgrade that. I can't use it as a Dial-up Networking modem via bluetooth, because that would prevent them from selling me an entirely different piece of kit at $150 and a whole new data plan for it. Sure, there's a hack, but after paying multiple hundreds of dollars to essentially rent a handheld device, plus dag'near a hundred bones a month for service, I just want the thing to work, thanks.

    It's fragile as hell. I've dropped it twice (because they seem incapable of selling me a reasonable case for it for under $65, at least, that's in stock). There are now three large patches of noticeable road rash on the phone case - fortunately, not on the screen, and things still work.

    I miss functionality from the Kyo. MP3 ringtones, for one. This thing has a faster processor, theoretically more memory, and a more advanced OS. Why doesn't it do MP3 ringtones? Oh, of course. Because they want to sell me software to do that. Well, I buy Ringo. This would be the bee's knees, except Verizon updated the firmware yesterday, and now - well, now, when I get a phone call, the phone soft-resets.

    Many times (more than twenty in the past week) I've clicked the five-way nav to 'wake up' the phone and instead of getting the comforting phone app screen, I've gotten a horrible 'crashed' looking mishmash of graphics. The only way to recover has been to cycle apps three or four times before returning to the phone app.

    There's a camera in this phone. I don't think I need one, but it's nice to have. I seem to be paying on the order of $400 for this thing, and they stick a VGA camera in here. Whisky Tango Foxtrot. If you're going to go to the trouble of putting a camera in this thing, at least put one in that lets me leave my separate digicam at home, boys and girls, or it isn't worth the damn complexity.

    Hm. What else. Can't listen to audio over Bluetooth. What the hell is BT good for on this thing, essentially? I saw a friend's BT headset (Jabra) on his Moto phone. It had one button, just like this headset (the Treo set). That headset could:

    • Redial the last call
    • Voice dial
    • Turn on/off the phone
    • Cycle through call log
    • ...and a couple other neat tricks.
    This one? Bupkes. It can hang up. That's about it. Sometimes it can pick up. But not always. I've now missed around five calls because I tried to pick them up with the Palm BT headset only to have the damn thing keep ringing through to voicemail. Sure, I can buy voicedialing software for the headset and phone. Hm. I detect a pattern, here. I can buy ringtones, too.

    Fuck that.

    I miss Qualcomm, damn it. I don't want a phone built by a PDA company. I want a phone built by a phone company, with PDA functionality. Apparently that's too much to ask.

    Posted by jbz at 3:16 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    July 19, 2005

    Treo 650 Bluetooth Sync with Mac OS X


    Okay, so I have this new toy. It's not great. It's okay. It's got more features than my beloved Kyocera 7135, but is definitely a massive step backwards in terms of phone functionality (that's what you get for buying a phone from a PDA company, I guess).

    My problem, for the past few days, has been that I have been unable to get the damn thing to sync with my Mac over Bluetooth. Whenever I tried, the Treo would say "Unable to complete request: port is in use by another application." When I went investigating on the Mac, I found that the Hotsync manager on the Mac (I'm using Mac OS X 10.4.2) would refuse to enable HotSync software if Bluetooth was selected, with the following error: "Transport Monitor was unable to complete your request. (16)"


    After a completely useless call to Verizon (who at least admitted that they couldn't help me) and then two completely useless calls to PalmOne tech support, both of which got 'mysteriously dropped' ten to fifteen minutes in when techsupportdroid du jour ran off the bottom of their script and had to 'place me on hold', I gave up on that route. My favorite: telling me to reboot the Mac and soft-reset the phone before even asking me what the problem was.

    Anyhow, for anyone else who might have this problem, here's what fixed it for me:

    1. Make sure no Palm software (or iSync) is running on the Mac.
    2. In ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost/, trash all com.palm.* files.
    3. In ~/Library/Preferences, trash all com.palm.* files (should be 1).
    4. In System Preferences (the app), under 'Bluetooth,' make sure your computer is 'Discoverable' (box checked) in the 'Settings' tab.
    5. In the 'Sharing' tab, make sure the 'Bluetooth-PDA-Sync' service has the 'On' box checked (mine wasn't!). Select the service name. On the right, there is a dropdown box for 'Type:' - make sure that is set to 'RS-232' - not Modem.
    6. Exit Bluetooth prefs, saving all changes if it asks you to.
    7. At that point, you should be able to go to HotSync manager and enable Bluetooth-PDA-Sync sync method and enable connections. Then go to your Treo, enable Bluetooth, and initiate a HotSync. It should work.
    Whew. Wouldn't it have been nice if Palm had, I dunno, either documented that, or even told their tech support crew about it?

    Posted by jbz at 2:02 PM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

    July 7, 2005


    Finally have a Pelikan in my collection. This one has a custom nib, a Pelikan M250 gold nib ground by Richard Binder into a 0.9mm left-foot 15-degree italic cursive. I like it quite a bit, although I think I should have gone for the 0.7mm - Richard sizes nibs by line size rather than nib size, and this one is a tad broad for me. On the other hand, without the broad line, you wouldn't see the line width variation it offers nearly as well. Perhaps I should have gotten a 30-degree angle instead?

    This isn't a calligraphy pen - instead, it's an everyday pen with a nib optimized for a more interesting look. The nib is less forgiving than the standard ball nib - being flat and offset, you need to hold it within a very narrow range of angles to the paper and rotation or it won't feed. But that's all right - it produces writing far better than my hand is worthy of. Now I guess I need to spend some time sitting around actually writing, so as to learn to produce lettering that takes advantage of the nib.

    I print, see. Badly, as well. When I was in elementary school (primary school) I hated 'cursive' writing practice. I hated it so much I complained to my father. He handed me a note to take to my teacher. When i gave it to her, she said "What does this say? I can't read it!"

    Triumphantly, I said "It says 'I'm a professional writer by trade, and I never learned to write cursive. If I can make a living at this without needing to know that stuff, then my son doesn't either.' Signed, David Zimmerman."

    She looked at me, shrugged, and said 'Okay.'

    I got to read during handwriting practice. I still think I got a good deal. I read waaay fast, and I print fast enough to take notes - and people can actually read my handwriting. It's only now that I have this awfully snobbish affectation of fountain pens that I regret not 'learning my letters.'

    Still, that's fixable. Just gotta practice.

    Posted by jbz at 4:02 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    June 7, 2005

    Conformity is good for business and bad for the soul

    John Siracusa over at the excellent Ars Technica has said it much better than I could have. In his piece describing how he feels about the Macintosh switching to Intel chips, he notes:

    Yes, Apple is assured a steady stream of competitive CPUs as long as Windows
    targets the same ISA, but at a cost. Apple's CPUs may no longer be slower than
    the competition, but they also give up any hope of being faster.
    That, in a nutshell, is why this is a dark day for Apple. It's yet another 
    little thing that Macs used to do, if not always better, then at least 
    differently than Windows PCs. Macs are now slightly less special.
    It's a good piece, and I recommend it highly.

    Posted by jbz at 6:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 6, 2005

    Mactel - The Crapocalypse.

    Well, hell. I dunno. As I told some folks I argued vociferously with today, I don't run Apple, and I don't have the info, but I can guess...probably something like IBM saying "Well, we don't have much interest in spending the asstastic amount of money required to get this big new chipfab up to speed yielding uberfast 3GHz PPC970s, much less designing new supershiny chips along the line that are going to be fun in laptops, when we are mostly concerned with putting lots of simple PPCs together in big iron and middle iron machines." Which leaves Apple in a bad spot - they have a better chip now, and for the next year or so, but then what.

    Well, I guess we know - they suck it up and migrate to the shittier architecture.

    I say 'shittier architecture' solely from the perspective of an Op. I don't code for them. I don't design chips. All I know is that even when choosing among x86 machines (or between X86_64 and EMT64, say) choosing Intel means paying a crapload more money for chips which run hotter and slower. Choosing Intel over PowerPC chips means getting less raw performance for larger, hotter chips which tend to cost more at the chip level, which (if I read my Ars Technica properly) seem to have crappier tech.

    I'm not going to try to argue that Apple should have done something different, I guess. I don't have the information, and I don't run the company. I'm not going to second guess them. I'm just going to say that I don't like this.

    This is not to say that there won't be advantages. Here are a few. For example, it means that at some point in the future, your Macintosh will be able to boot Windows without having to run VirtualPC, which means it will be easier to sell them to Enterprise Customers(TM). Or, of course, run x86 linux distros. W00t. One will be able to buy Powerbooks and dualboot Mac OS X and, say, Fedora Core (I presume). This is a Good Thing.

    Apple will probably be able to sell more XServes if they can run Windows Server, I would guess. It'll be easier for IT subversives to order 'em if they say 'well gee, they make good storage systems, nice easy boxes, run Windows...?' So that's a good thing.

    And yeh, the average consumer doesn't care, and probably will be happy to say 'uh, duh, yeh, Intel, good, right? Whole world use? Happy?'

    But that don't mean I gotta be happy.

    Well, we got Intel Inside. We better get some fucking WiMax sweetness, and damn it, we got XScale/StrongARM, so WHERE THE FUCK IS MY HANDHELD?

    Posted by jbz at 4:22 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    I've always said I'd shake his hand and kick his ass...

    ...so this had better mean one (or more) of the following:
    • Apple contracts with Intel for WiMax chips, or the XScale/ARM chips for a new portable/handheld device. The ARM/StrongARM was the heart of my much-beloved Apple Newton, after all.
    • Apple hires Intel to produce and perhaps design new PowerPC G4/G5/G?? chips, transferring its intellectual property and licenses from IBM to Intel in order to better leverage Intel's focus on chipbuilding and integration with other chip technologies. IBM isn't first and foremost a chip company, and Intel is. So in this hypothetical, Intel takes the PPC970-whatever designs, or whatever of them Apple owns or can extract from IBM, and runs with them, integrating WiMax or other chipset goodies like the Centrino chipset to make better laptop processors.
    • Apple introduces a new line of devices, either home or portable, running a new or non-Mac OS X operating system, embedded or non, which runs on Intel chips. A 'sealed' Mac Mini 'home media appliance' running an embedded version of OS X, compiled on the Marklar build of OS X, for example. Perhaps a tablet-ized video player, on same. Whatever. This they keep tight to their chests, using Intel's chips but using the fact that the build is on Intel to keep the software to themselves more so than the OS X world - keeping the 'embedded appliance' track of Mac OS even 'cleaner' than OS X, leaving the full OS X on PPC for 'the rest of us' to play with.
    • Apple announces a line of enterprise server devices, a la XServe and XSAN, running on Intel/AMD hardware and running an Intel compiled version of Mac OS X Server. Mac OS X workstation remains PPC-only.

    I know, I know. JB, why are you so negative about this Intel thing? Why are you such a conservative stick-in-the-mud? Are you just a hater? Can't you see the lure of cheaper clock cycles?

    I can see that. I can also see the groundquakes of the last architecture change from 0x0 to PPC, and that didn't involve switching endian-ness. While Steve Jobs and co. may think that yes, the consumer won't give a shit what their brand new Macintoy is running on, what they risk losing is the groundswell of enterprise and hacker mindshare that arises from the fact that their hardware and their software has been adopted by a legion of coder and op geeks. Sure, most of them couldn't care, and maybe some of them would probably even applaud the move - but, honestly, given that moving to Intel won't make 'em cheaper (get real, people) then what's the point? I mean, really? Do you honestly think that Jobs and company would go through the hell, damnation and risk of a platform change just to lower their marginal price point? I sure don't. They've been making decent money on Macintoshes, and have been proving to the world that they're going to take Apple in new and cool directions selling things other than Macintoshes. iPods are only the start of it. I don't give a damn what chips those new cool things run - but damn it, I play in this patch in order to use the Mac OS, yes, even the fuckwit-braindamaged Finder they condescend to give me these days, and I don't want to live through the shitstorm that will arise if they try to shift it to x86. For fuck's sake, they haven't even finished porting OS X to PPC properly, which is why OS X keeps getting faster with each release - more and more bits of it become native code rather than emulated 680x0 code.

    Like I've always said, if I ever meet Steve Jobs, it'll be hard. Two impulses will do battle - the Mac user in me will want to shake his hand warmly, and the Newton user in me will want to kick his ass. I hope that the Intel Chip Hoopla is because he's applying his particular brand of genius to move Apple into a new and exciting space that they gave up when he killed the Newton way back when - this time to stay, kick ass, and take names. If that's the case, then perhaps I'll be able to to simply say 'There goes Mr. Jobs, whose hand I would be privileged to shake if I ever could.' But if he and the NeXTies are out to shake the foundations of the Macintosh again when things are finally calm enough for the devel community to have gotten their cold shakes mostly conquered and to be turning out Cool Stuff again, well...


    I guess we'll see later today.

    Posted by jbz at 1:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 18, 2005

    Woo! Restoration Hardware for GEEKS!

    Heh. So I checked eBay, because my Asteroids machine (other than now needing some capacitor lovin') has a smashed marquee (that's the painted plexiglass panel with lights behind it at the top which has the machine's name on it). I have one from a prior Asteroids I owned, from which it was the sole surviving part...however, found one for $20 on eBay, original. Can't pass that up. Woooo.


    Posted by jbz at 7:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    More ways to feel inadequate on the internet

    Sigh. This gent is a true maven of one of my favorite pastimes, the Golden Age videogame. I have a few of them, some which work and some which do not; however, I am hamstrung in my drive to become a truly proficient and dedicated Arcade collector: I don't have anyplace to put (much less work on) the things. They won't fit into my apartment - not so much because of space, but because it's a Cambridge first-floor walk-up that's up 1/2 a flight of a square staircase, and nothing this size and inflexibility will go through that door. The basement of my condo, which has room and would be perfect, is down a narrow elbowbasher of a stairway and the outside door is accessed by a deep, narrow concrete stairway with thick rails embedded in it. Plus it's probably a few inches too small. So where are they now? That's...complicated.


    My current collection:

    • Atari Star Wars (1 working, 1 not complete)
    • Atari Asteroids (not working, worked for a few days but the spotkiller came on as expected. I need to recap the monitor for sure, perhaps winkle out some other bits.)
    • Atari Battlezone (almost working)
    • Atari Red Baron (working)
    • Atari Tempest (not working)
    • Atari Space Duel (not working)
    • Williams Stargate (not working)
    • Bally/Midway Xenophobe (working)
    ...someday I'll have a garage, or perhaps (gasp) a shed. Heh. Then look out.

    Posted by jbz at 6:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 17, 2005

    Where to put this post...

    ...is, in fact, a tough question. First, what the heck is it about? Well. That's easier. I mumbled earlier about the unfolding outcomes of the arrests of protestors at the RNC in NYC last year. In said post, I mentioned that I thought one of the interesting (to me) parts of the story was that it demonstrated the ability of widely available camcorder technology to serve as a check on government behavior.

    I received an email from another blogger, whose blog I had noticed via a trackback ping - Saheli, of Musings, and Observations had collected several responses to the NYTimes story in question and had some good questions (and, of course, musings and observations) about them. So, um, hi Saheli! I think I'm supposed to wax witty now.

    Which is a perfect time to describe why this post sits in the 'Gear' category. It concerns something that's nagged at me for quite some time, but which I've never been able to decide whether or not is a) practical and b) necessary. Oh, and c) the Right Way To Go About It (quoth Pooh). As I was reading about the edited (read: deleted) scenes from the protest videos which were being used as evidence against the gentleman in the story, I was reminded of this thought which has kicked around in my head for a long, long time.

    I keep wondering if there is a way to embed a pseudorandom stream of some sort into a frame-based media stream (like, say, video) which can be used to prove the integrity of the document at a later time. This is fraught with all manner of problems which I can think of right off the bat, and I'm not knowledgeable enough to prove that they can be fixed - plus, I have been convinced by people smarter than I about such matters that when doubt exists, be very very cautious. But still, the general idea seems like a good one to me - and since the basic premise is not one of exclusion or defense but of verification, I continue to pursue it.

    Here are the essentials. In the story, a man arrested by the NYPD during the Republican National Convention was stated by the arresting officer under oath to have been acting in violent and generally non-police-approved ways. Videotapes were shown to the court which seemed to if not prove at least not contradict the officer's story. However, at a later date, a researcher came across another videotape of the same events (made by an amateur cameraperson) which, on comparison, clearly showed that the tape presented to the court as an unmodified record of events had, in fact, been modified - and scenes had been deleted which showed the defendant acting in a non-threatening, calm manner as he claimed he had been. The charges were dropped hurriedly, and some excuse regarding 'the wrong scenes being cut by a technician' was offered. Without going into the responsibilities of the prosecution to ensure their case wasn't tainted by such oopses, or the need for investigation into the now-contradicted testimony under oath of the officer (Saheli visits this on her blog) I'd like to talk about that videotape.

    I mentioned that having the second videotape around was a demonstration of one way of citizens keeping a check on overreach by government agents (be they police, federal agents, or simply overzealous traffic enforcers). The prevalence of active video cameras at the protests surrounding the RNC made the existence of a second video record of the events in question likely enough to be worth searching for. Without an actual surveillance society (and again, I'll leave the arguments about whether we have one already or not for another time, hello Mr. Orwell and Mr. Bentham) whose records would, in any case, be useless to the average citizen, the dispersal of recording gear among the citizenry and the habitual practice of using said gear whenever the machinery of government acts would seem like a valuable backstop for a civil rights society.

    Man, I can be longwinded, can't I? All this to lead back to a technological fantasy. Okay. In any case, recent times have shown also that the problem with camcorders is that the output of a camcorder can be very easily faked - and even more easily and perhaps worse than faked, simply cut or edited to produce a markedly different outcome simply by rearranging the order of events on the record - or just dropping some of them. In the more difficult cases, inserting events or scenes into the record might be done to change the impact of what is shown.

    How can the value of the 'third view' (first being eyewitness, second being official surveillance) be preserved? Enter the whole point of this post, only umpteen paragraphs down. Using a method blending, say, the elements of SMPTE, GPS, and MD5 it might be possible to create a 'verification track' on a standard video data stream. This verification track would be encoded as part of the normal video data, thus ensuring it would not require any special equipment or modification - in fact, it would ideally be part of the running video feed, with a visible component verifying its presence. The visible pattern would need to be some form of known progression, in an unobtrusive place (like a station ID bug currently used by many broadcasters) whose transformations could be observed over time during playback and compared to a known, reference signal. Any deviation would signal a break (hence edit) in the original master.

    Of course, the verification graphic could simply be added to the final edited cut of the video. As a result, the actual graphic should serve to present a datastream which can be captured and decoded during playback, if necessary at low resolution through a video monitor. This datastream would contain something like the following:

    • A timecode, derived from:
    • A current GPS coordinate for the camera or the verification signal device, if available
    • A pseudorandom number stream, which is generated from a seed given by the operator at the start of recording (perhaps on powerup of the camera, say).
    • A periodic hash of the video data from the current total frame.

    This would serve, at later dates, as a validation of the videostream. The timecodes and GPS coordinates, in addition to being useful for continuity data, would allow viewers later to determine the camera position and event timing for evidential purposes (or plain curiousity). The pseudorandom number stream, which is the key to the whole thing, serves two primary purposes: integrity verification and security. The PRN is the output of a Pseudo-random Number Generator. Given a starting point (a 'seed number') a PRNG will produce a stream of what appear to be random numbers. However, if you give the same PRNG the same seed, it will always produce the same stream; furthermore, unless you know the precise PRNG used and its seed state, no matter now much of its output you have in your hand you shouldn't be able to extrapolate what the next result will be.

    What this means to us is that if we use this PRN stream to hash and encrypt the 'frames' of our verification data, it becomes very very hard for anyone to edit our video stream undetected. Assume that, during playback, the verification system is present. It is given the 'seed' password it was given during the filming of the video, and the video is set running. The verification system is busily comparing the contents of the verification frames as the video goes along; it's mostly concerned with the value of the PRN stream it's generating itself as compared to the one extracted from the video source. Suddenly, we hit a tape edit- and the stream is broken. A discrepancy shows up. The point is that it would be extremely difficult to manufacture the verification frames necessary to 'fill in the gaps' for a missing or inserted frame, because (presumably) the editor wouldn't have the password. Even if they do have the password, they would still have to find a way for their newly generated stream to hash properly with the now-changed PRN stream - unless they are exceedingly good at math, or their forgery is precisely the same number of frames long, they're going to have trouble making sure the PRN stream comes out right. They would have to modify every PRN frame for the remainder of the video. That's not in itself a real problem, but now every verification frame needs to be hashed again for video data checksumming (perhaps a color balance checksum, or some other means of 'fingerprinting' the frame) as well as having its timecode and GPS position data forged. The problem becomes much, much larger.

    This is not a solution. It is not even a proposal for one, really. Mr. Schneier and his colleagues are expert at pointing out holes in security plans like this, which is why I'm posting it, I suppose. I'm not so much interested in negative-proof-by-counterexample, because I can spin scenarios to beat the thing of varying likelihood. What I'm looking for is fundamental problems with the approach. I'm sure they're there. What are they? You tell me.

    There are the obvious ones. Password, JB? snort. Password? Yeah, yeah, I know. But for 'password' insert 'secure token of choice.' No, none of them are perfect. But remember. the point is not to make One Perfectly Provable Video. We're hoping and assuming that there will be many cameras. We're trying to raise the bar for monkeying with video evidence high enough that simple editing out of scenes doesn't just 'go unnoticed until another tape is found.' There will always be a way for someone technologically savvy enough to beat any technological system of protection; I accept that maxim. The question is, how expensive is it for them to do so in terms of time and resources? Once you know that, compare that cost to your target. The target here is not the dedicated, determined forger with access to corporate and NSA-style computational resources. The target here is the casually overzealous prosecutor; the harried policeman who wants to cut corners; the angry rent-a-cop with a surveillance camera; the unscrupulous media consultant at a political protest. You're trying to make your multiple handcam records more believable in a world of lust and crime.

    Any of this make sense?

    How? Oh, hell, I dunno. Perhaps a small addon box with a GPS in it that plugs into the camcorder via Firewire. Maybe a feature on the camcorder itself. Perhaps the camcorder feed goes out the DV slot and onto a HD recorder which adds this track live - an opportunity for the wearable linux hackers. The idea's the thing, with which to catch the excesses of the king.

    God, what an awful trampling of a quote.

    Posted by jbz at 2:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 13, 2005

    RIP - Requescat iPod Pacem

    Grrr. Cute tricks with diagnostic mode aside, JohnnyJohnny (the iPod in question) apparently has hard drive issues. Won't get through a sync without making 'CLUNK' noises and freezing iTunes. Ah well, still under warranty, so off he goes, poor thing.

    Posted by jbz at 4:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 12, 2005

    iPod Stuck on Apple Logo - fix

    Put my iPod in the cradle today and got a lovely looping Apple Logo (boot, Apple logo, hiccup, blank screen, Apple logo, wash, rinse, repeat.) Resetting the iPod (it's a 4th gen, so hold down Select and Menu) simply started the cycle over. After thrashing around a bit, I tried running the restore program on my Mac, but that wouldn't work either, because the iPod wouldn't come up far enough for the Mac to recognize it either as an iPod or even as a Firewire disk (argh).

    Anyway, the eventual solution: Diagnostic mode. Woohoo! Yep, if you have a 4th gen iPod that won't talk to you (in my case, if you have an Apple logo stuck on the screen) try the following sequence of steps:

    • Hold down Select / Menu (to reboot the iPod)
    • As soon as the Apple logo appears, hold down Rewind / Select until...
    • ...you see a backwards Apple Logo.
    • At this point, you will have entered Diagnostic Mode. It'll test the RAM, and then tell you to HIT PLAY TO CONTINUE. Hit 'Play'.
    • You'll be in a menu that you advance by hitting FF (Fast Forward). Advance to the 'DISKMODE' entry.
    • Hit 'Select.' This will put you into Firewire Disk mode. The screen should change to the familiar 'Do Not Disconnect' mode. At this point, connect it to the computer.
    • Run the restore utility; it should now recognize the iPod and offer to Restore the factory software. Do so. You'll lose whatever's on it, but you'll avoid having to send it back in to Apple and pay them $49 or whatever to do basically the same thing. :-)

    Posted by jbz at 2:41 PM | Comments (60)

    January 18, 2005


    Damn BoingBoing for having all this stuff I just gotta get. Even if they got it second-hand. I mean, I need this. Now.

    Don't you?

    Posted by jbz at 4:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 22, 2004

    Nanny Engineering

    Argh. So I'm having scads of fun playing with my new toy. I'm happily cruising fantasy ways to blow money on the beast (other than buying winter shoes, which I have deemed to be my Upgrade Monies for the Year). One of the few things that has been bothering me about driving it has been my slightly poor clutch performance. I have been shamefacedly putting it down to unfamiliarity with the car and transmission; perhaps too long behind the wheel of the shitbox I'd been driving for a year. Maybe I was just rusty. Perhaps I just didn't 'get' the Real Man's (tm) German Shifter.

    Then, while researching the mods I could drop on the car, I came across this.

    Now, I'm not sure this is true (although it looks pretty plausibly true). I'm not sure what the actual effect of this part is. However, based on their description of it, it would seem to me that it does what they say - it's a fucking nannywidget. It's designed to make the thing easier to handle for the bottom of the bell curve, but by fucking over those of us who'd rather take our lumps and learn to drive it good and proper. I mean, there's no way I'm going to learn how to shift the car properly if not only will it not let me directly control the clutch, but I don't know the thing is there.

    This has made it to the top of the 'must unbreak this design decision' list.

    Posted by jbz at 12:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 14, 2004

    So I'm a crassly materialistic snot.

    I acknowledge this about myself. It's one of my many failings.

    However, I had been ready to purchase a 2004 Toyota Prius about a year ago, and an absolutely abysmal experience with Herb Chambers Toyota convinced me to never, ever purchase a car from the Toyota retail sales organization ever again. It's a pity, too...while the Prius was a nice geek vehicle, it wasn't a particularly great car - but I do love some of their toys.

    However, for less than I was willing to pay for that car, I have acquired a new friend.

    His name is Darthwagen.

    Every time I feel a pang of guilt over my excessive consumerism, there is a deep hiss from the climate control system as he informs me that I do not yet understand the power of the Dark Side.

    I think he will kill me if I show weakness. But together we can rule the highways as Sith Lord and disciple.

    Besides, I'm a good Jew. Pay retail? Ha! As if.

    Posted by jbz at 1:09 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    July 26, 2004

    4G iPod addendum

    This is a small thing I noticed re: the 4G iPod...I have since asked 3G owners, who say theirs doesn't do this. If I'm listening to the iPod via headphones while it's undocked, and I remove the headphones, the iPod pauses. Then, if I don't replug the headphones and unpause within the normal timeout, it shuts down to save power (and, incidentally, save my place in the song, since it paused rather than stopped). This used to happen to me all the time; when removing the iPod from the car, I'd disconnect the cassette adapter from the headphone jack and forget to stop the iPod, which would then happily drain its entire battery charge sitting disconnected in my bag. No more. This is one of those 'little things' that makes this iPod such a joy to use...while there is no shortage of annoying things that Apple does, little things like this (which was not trumpeted as a Feature anywhere on the promo literature) indicate to me that there is still a team working on the iPod who love their little jellybean child and continue to lavish their smarts on it.

    Oh, and the more I use it, the more I love the clickwheel. Heh.

    Posted by jbz at 2:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 21, 2004

    iPod, iLook, iBitch

    So I don't really have any real reason to complain. Which, naturally, means I'm about to anyway.

    For reasons I won't go into, I recently was forced to buy a new iPod (aw...shucks). I trotted out last week and plunked down the $400 for a 20GB 3gen unit, only to find myself with Alpha Geek Inferiority complex a few days later when Newsweek was coopted to serve as Apple's press bitch. So back I go to the Apple store.

    Ha! Betcha thought this was going to be an Apple store customer service bitch, didn't you? Well, no, wrong. They were quite nice, told me I was within my 10-day 'remorse period' (I love terms like that) and took back the iPod. Because I hadn't even opened the headphone blister pack (I use Koss's 'The Plug') they knocked a few percent off the restock fee, even! Then, after expecting to wait weeks for the new one, nope, they had them in store today - a mere 2 days after the announcement. This isn't the Apple I know and love to hate. $100 cheaper for the same storage? In stock within 2 days of announcement? Took back my old one?

    Get it home, in my hot little hands, a spankin' 40GB version. Open the case. Right away, clues to how they cut corners - they're using recycled paper 'egg carton' material instead of styro in the packaging. Well, that's ok, I'm hip to that, it's probably even better for the environment. Open up the cube.

    Waitaminit. Hm. USB cable, yep, FireWire cable, check, headphones w/foams, uh-huh...

    No remote? And no carrying case? On the high end model?


    I told you there wasn't any *real* reason to complain but that I would anyway. Especially since no one has shipped a case for this one yet, so now I'm caseless. It's not like the case in the 3gen cost them more than maybe two bucks in quantity! The remote? Well, gee, I *guess*...still, I'm kinda chuffed.

    At least they did put a dock in here. That would've tipped me over to a full-on rant. And, of course, the reason I got the new iPod, really? I hated those $#()_)@#(@ 'four button' controls. I was an original iPod user. I got used to having the buttons surrounding the wheel. They don't surround it, but the click wheel is almost, nearly, within-a-micrometer-of just as good.

    Ah. Tunes.

    Posted by jbz at 4:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    February 20, 2004

    SquareSoft 0wnz0r3d Me

    I carried a package from work to a friend's home today for him, since he was out waiting for the Cable Guy to hook his ass up to the bitstream. He called me and asked if I could temporarily spare $120 to pick something up for him. I said "Sure," since, well, I could. Just as I was about to ask what, I realized what he needed.

    The package I was taking him (an Amazon.com box) contained Final Fantasy:Crystal Chronicles, and a link cable for his Game Boy Advance SP. Since SquareSoft and Nintendo are such frighteningly ruthless marketers, FF:CC is the first game that doesn't just allow you to use the GBAs as spiffy controllers for the GameCube - it requires them.

    That means for every person who plays (up to 4) you need a $100 GBA. Plus the GameCube. Plus the game. Bastards.

    Of course, it'd be much easier to be annoyed with them if the game weren't so damn pretty! I mean, hell, it's just gorgeous. We spent about ten minutes watching the intro, which is rendered much better than 95% of the crap animation on TV anyway, and then dove into the game - and found that you need the GBAs. Each character has 10 different 'management' screens, and rather than taking up the main view, you perform all the management functions on your GBA/controller - which lets you do stuff without pausing the game, and ensures that your playmates and you don't compete for TV real estate at a critical moment during a battle because you forgot to equip that damn Blizzard Magicite Sphere.

    These guys, who are much better at this gaming stuff than I, have gone on at length about this game, but here are my impressions from one 3-hr session. First of all, party play is not just an enhancer, it's absolutely unavoidable. For one thing, each player character has different abilities (well, duh, that's normal). For another, they do sneaky things. For example, when he and I were running around our cool brightly-colored world, we both kept our GBAs in 'Radar' mode - where status info and your radar/nav screen are on the GBA during play. It didn't take us long to realize that my screen had the map - and his had the enemy positions on his radar.

    Then the next area, it switched.

    You are assigned 'bonus tasks' at the beginning of each round. For example, one round I had 'Inflict Physical Damage' (that was easy, I was tanking at the time) and he had 'Open Treasure Chests.' Then the next round, I had (I kid you not) 'Take Physical Damage' and he had 'Pick Up Items.' Then I had 'Don't Pick Up Anything' while he was supposed to hog all the gil. While a divided party might bitch and whine about this, really, all possessions are shared amongst the players (if you're smart) so this didn't really inconvenience anyone - but it sure made play interesting.

    For another thing, the world is so hostile (it contains ' miasma', which is icky and hurts you) that the only thing that keeps you safe is your Crystal Chalice. Your party carries this around to collect myrrh. When I say 'party' I mean 'one player therein' - because it's a large basin, and somebody has to tote it around at all times. Not in 'inventory' but taking up your hands. There is a 'safe zone' around the Chalice that all party members have to stay within if they don't want to take damage from the miasma. So you have to coordinate. Not only in position, but the person holding the chalice has to put it down to attack or cast spells. More coordination.

    Plus, did I mention it's really, really, really damn pretty? I can't get the incidental music out of my head now, kupo.

    I'm gonna lose a lot of time to this one. Luckily I don't have a GameCube. Unfortunately, he does.

    Posted by jbz at 1:44 AM | Comments (0)

    February 12, 2004

    Burn a peat bog and strain with liquid gold

    I guess this is gear-related, if Scotch can be called gear. A fellow monkey, some of his friends and I recently engaged in a comparative taste test and educational survey of single-malt scotches, and I just can't resist blogging the results that I can remember. Heh. We had eleven distillations total, and I bet I won't remember them all.

    Glenkinchie started us off. A Lowlands malt, it is a paler gold, perhaps four or five shades darker than straw. Sometimes tagged a 'ladies' drink' due to its mild flavor, this appellation (or, really, snipe) misses the point entirely. The flavor of Glenkinchie isn't in a strong, mouthwatering punch, but contained almost entirely in the nose. Sniffing the stuff won't do you much good; you have to take a sip. Do so, however, with your nose open, and breath out through it...let it have air. There are all manner of slight florals embedded in there, and just enough smoke and peat to let you know you're consuming a fine scotch. The perfume of it is why it's drunk.

    Dalwhinnie was second up. A Speyside drink, it is a more traditional Scotch, whose flavors tend heavily towards smoke and malt. This is in no way a bad thing. It is a lighter tone as well, though; so if you are apprehensive of perhaps imbibing the liquid remains of a firepit, don't worry (that happens later). It has a more solid malt base than the Glenkinchie, but in a straightforward way, and not too invasive - the fluid can be drunk in larger swigs without suffering nasal or esophagal burnout.

    What came next? Oh yes, the Glenlivet 18. A very, very nice whisky - smooth, with the strong smoke and malt rounded down, burnished to a mellow shine without any real acridity or sharp burn. The strength is apparent if you hold it in your mouth, but at no time does it feel like it's trying to damage you - just educate you, heh. A straightforward flavor, with some less complex florals and herbals, but those serve to accentuate the malt and peat rather than overlay it.

    The Glenlivet French Oak 12 was one of the evening favorites. The rough edges of the still-slightly-young Scotch are not so much muted as complemented by the complex wood flavoring imparted by the French Oak finishing. The Scotch is 'finished' - i.e. spends the last year or two, perhaps - in Cognac barrels of French oak from the Limousin region. The resulting woody nose rides alongside the slightly sharp burn of the malt, and together they produce a flavor quite distinctive from the other tipples of the tasting. Highly recommended as a flavorful way to finish a mild but satisfying meal, or to enjoy with a cigar as most Scotches excel with tobacco.

    I had never before tasted the Glenrothes Speyside Vintage Malt 21, and I know now what a loss that has been. This spirit came attractively bottled with a label showing its vintage and bottling information and was an amazing rich copper, almost, in color. The flavor was just amazing, and this was judged by our crew the best 'straight whisky' out of the bunch. It has a complexity that you have to hold it in your mouth for several seconds to find, and even then, different amounts will produce different balances of yum. There was a slight vanillin, perhaps from the Sherry Oak casks, and several florals that weren't individually identifiable. Overlaying it was a sharp spicy wood, almost cedarlike without being oily. A very wide taste. I'd walk a damn long way for one of these, and if I had one of my fave stogies, too, well...

    Glenmorangie is also a fabulous straight whisky. This bottle managed, even this late in the game, to surprise with a very round and full mouthfeel (that word always reminds me of a friend's Golden Retriever, whose enthusiasm was such that every object brought near her needed to be evaluated for this quality). There was a bit of licorice in this, the color being a middling golden brown, and the nose was brisk. Unlike some of the more subtle whiskys, which had a faint odor, or some of the stronger ones whose aroma was dominated by either smoke or alcohol, this one has an excellent schnozz. I enjoyed just sniffing it for a time, and then rolling it about the mouth reflectively. Despite this, I had to slug the last ounce or so just to evaluate the slam deep in the stomach as it headed for ignition...and I pronounced it good. Others agreed.

    The Knockando suffered a bit from being a more subtly flavored brand placed this late in the tasting. I was looking forward to the next one with alacrity, so all I'll say for the Knockando is that I do look forward to drinking it first some evening. Perhaps I'll go investigate that possibility now. Hm.

    Lagavulin contains all I might say on this subject.

    Extra credit:
    Macallan Cask Strength
    Royal Lochnagar Grand Reserve

    Posted by jbz at 3:01 PM | Comments (0)

    January 21, 2004

    Momma's got a Squeezebox...

    Momma's got a Squeezebox, Daddy doesn't sleep at night...
    - The Who

    The Squeezebox is the second product of the Slim Devices company (http://www.slimdevices.com), following on the heels of the SliMP3. Put baldly, it is a streaming MP3 receiver. Like too few products, however, the Squeezebox is more than the sum of its parts!

    The Box

    The Squeezebox is a textured plastic device that looks like nothing so much as a super-stealthy clock radio. It is around seven inches across, curved in the back, and the face is entirely taken up by a bright teal vacuum fluorescent display. The right side has a mini-stereo jack, amplified for headphones. The back contains a power supply jack (it comes with a wall wart), a socket for a whip 802.11b antenna, a S/PDIF miniplug optical port, RCA stereo ports, and an RJ-45 100 Base-T Ethernet jack. It weighs all of five or six ounces, not counting the power transformer. It ships with a standard-looking infrared remote control.

    The Software

    In order to use the Squeezebox, you'll need to have a computer somewhere that is running the SlimServer software, available for download at Slim Devices' website. The SlimServer is most of the 'brains' of the product, and is Free Software - you can download it, use it, modify it. As a result, it has been ported and extended fairly well - there are versions that run on Linux, Windows (of various flavors), Mac OS X, Solaris and various BSDs. It consists of a set of Perl libraries and a web-based interface. It performs two critical functions: one, it allows you to control your Squeezebox (or other stream - more on that in a second) and two, it streams mp3 audio to the device or app that you're using.

    Note that if you'd like to try the server software, you don't need a Squeezebox. You can download it and install it, and it will handle as many separate streams as your server computer and network will. I personally use mine not only for running my Squeezebox but for streaming music to my work computer (running XMMS, gag puke choke, or iTunes if I'm on my laptop) and to 'take' my music wherever I go. The Squeezebox talks to the SlimServer using the aforementioned Perl libraries, so when you hit your IR remote, you're really talking to the SlimServer.

    If you're a Mac OS X user (as I am) you'll be happy to know that the SlimServer completely groks iTunes. This means if you're running iTunes, and you tell it to do so, it will utilize all existing iTunes tag info as well as playlist information (including the dynamic 'Smart Playlists' that do stuff like offer your top 25 most-played tunes). It doesn't need iTunes (it can keep its own data, and let you construct your own playlists entirely) but if you choose to use iTunes connectivity, you can still manage your own playlists and the like. It just assumes that the iTunes music library is where all your music lives.

    What it Does

    Put simply, it is the Killer Music App. It makes your digital music available to you from anywhere you have a browser and net connection (SlimServer) or just a net connection and power (Squeezebox). To give you a taste of how well-done this thing is, here is the complete sequence of steps I went through to set mine up once I'd installed the SlimServer:
    1. Plugged it in in another room in my house. It came up and said Free your music!
    2. Then it asked 'Wireless Network?' -I indicated 'yes' using the remote.
    3. It sniffed around, and asked 'Network xxx (my SSID)?' -yup.
    4. Sniff again. 'Server " Navi"?' -...my Mac. Yup.
    5. A moment's pause, then "Ready! Select Playlists:" ...and it offered me a selection menu of all my iTunes playlists.
    I hit 'Play' - and music flowed out of my headphones.

    While in use, it uses approximately 4% of my Mac's CPU cycles ( PowerMac G4/500DP) and around 25K/sec of bandwidth per active stream.

    Why it's so damn cool

    ...because, for the first time (coupled with my iPod) my music is always with me, anywhere on the internet, and anywhere in my house. I have had six or seven friends around the U.S., and myself at work, and the Squeezebox in my bedroom all pulling music off my Mac simultaneously - no stutter. Although it has to transcode on the fly, it's capable of playing Ogg Vorbis files and a variety of other formats through server add-on modules.

    Folks have found out how to use it for other cool stuff, too. There are CallerID modules that display CallerID information on the Squeezebox display; stock tickers, clocks (the Squeezebox is truly a passive device, and despite its resemblance to a clock, doesn't have a local time source), several Windows Media Player remote controls that use the IR remote to control a computer app, library browsers, and apparently at least one RSS feed that someone is working on. It can act as an alarm clock, using the server's smarts, and start streaming at a predesignated time. The display can be turned off (handy when you're trying to sleep) without interrupting the music; there's a local volume control, which is nice.

    How's the sound?

    Darn good. I encode at 160k or 192k, and the sound out of the device is fairly clean. It does come out at a fairly high line level, so downing the volume can be necessary if you have sensitive headphones and/or ears. There are treble/bass adjustments on the Squeezebox, and the sound it puts out sounds cleaner than that which comes out of my Mac's sound ports (less EM noise, I guess).

    What's the catch?

    The price, for one. The box is $299 US, which is a bit steep for a dumb component. However, that's around what the Audiotron costs, and this is a much smarter component, with 802.11 onboard, to boot. For another, it's a fairly flimsy looking, odd-shaped box you can't stack - so it looks out of place in a typical home stereo cabinet. The VFD display looks slightly 'cheap' compared to even cheap home stereo gear. It'd be really nice if it could run off batteries, even for a limited time, making it truly portable around the home. There is no onboard speaker (not a big loss, AFAICT). The remote button layout is non-intuitive, and the buttons aren't easily distinguished by touch in the dark.

    The Verdict

    ...a Custodial two thumbs up. I got mine as a present, and hence was not put off by the price. However, I use it every day, and use the server software daily as well to listen to my home audio library from my office. I strongly recommend picking one up, if you have the means. They are so choice.
    Posted by jbz at 11:32 PM | Comments (0)

    December 19, 2003

    iPod, iThaw, iRock

    This is a tip that no doubt all serious iPod users know, but which I just had cause to discover for myself tonight. Returning to a car parked in chilly weather, I found that my iPod (original 5GB) - which had been sitting in said car - told me that I had no battery left, despite my having charged it that afternoon and only used it for around 20 mins.

    After swearing at the situation, I tried to start it a couple times - no dice, I got that annoying battery icon. Finally, I started the car, turned on the heater, held the back of the iPod in front of the vent until it was warm to the touch, and then rebooted the iPod (Pause/Menu held down until the Apple symbol shows). This time, it started up, showing me an empty battery indicator, so I began to play a playlist while holding it in front of the heater. After thirty or forty more seconds, the battery meter had jumped to three bars - where it remained for the forty-minute drive home.

    Posted by jbz at 12:34 AM | Comments (0)

    November 24, 2003

    I hate the chips that surround me.

    Ergo, I want one of these, really really really. If I lived in a loft, I’d place it in the middle of the floor, calculate a setting that would juuuuust reach the walls, and paint a big red line around it…then invite people to step in and push the button.



    Posted by jbz at 11:43 PM | Comments (0)

    Apple iChatAV + iSight = Vidfon!

    So I finally get an iChatAV session up between myself and my parents' iMac in Vermont. However, despite the connection being stable, it seemed to be of awfully low quality...checking the Connection Doctor window showed that the connection was using 55-56Kbps consistently. The number produced a slow 'aha!' and after some checking, my brother and I discovered that their machine (he was on their end) had its Quicktime Connection Speed set to 56K Dialup. Changing to Cable (their actual connection) only jumped us to 80Kbps (seems a bit low, given how fast I've been able to xfer files to them, but whatever) but the quality jumped noticeably.

    One interesting bit about iChatAV which has been pointed out in the web press: the Preview window acts as a 'virtual mirror' - which means that if you hold text up to it, it will look drawkcaB. The picture on the other end is 'correct, though - this implies to me that the horizontal 'flip' is done in the Quicktime codec after the preview and before broadcast over the wire. The reasoning probably is that it would confuse people if they moved in the opposite direction in the Preview window - pointing or gesturing might be affected.

    This is a pretty nice solution, although of course bandwidth helps. The integration with iChat's AIM messenger is nice - and, no doubt, one of the things driving that particular GNOME bounty. Finally, the videophone I was promised, and (so far) unlike in Blade Runner and 2001, AT&T hasn't managed to bill me by the minute.

    Whoa! A MacSurfer link! How'd that happen? Nobody reads this thing. Now I wish I'd said something actually worth reading. :-P

    Posted by jbz at 1:05 AM | Comments (0)

    November 16, 2003

    Score - Mom: 1 Apple: 1 Charter Cable: 0

    I recently sent my mother an iMac (the G4 flat panel version, a.k.a. Luxo Jr.). When I called to see if it had arrived, she told me that she had "received the monitor, but where's the computer?"

    After a moment of panic, I asked her if the 'monitor' had a heavy, round base.


    Welcome to the new world, Mom. That's the computer.


    As an experiment, I decided to not tell her to wait for my brother or myself to arrive, and see what she did with it. Well, this morning (the machine has been there two days) I got The Phone Call.

    "The Mac is broken."

    Had it worked before?

    "Yes, and I signed up for the network and eveything..."

    What had happened, it turns out, was that my dear mother had opened the iMac and found Apple's famous 'even this kid can do it' setup instructions. So she followed them, and lo and behold, she managed to connect the iMac to the cable modem, boot it up, and give Apple her credit card number for a .Mac account which she thought she needed to connect to the 'network.' But now it wasn't working.

    All kudos to Mom; she had, in fact, managed to move the (previously unused) cable modem to a new location, set up the iMac, connect it to both the iMac and the cable in the new location, boot everything up, and get it to work! For some reason, however, the *second* time she booted it, it wouldn't find an IP address. Apparently, in trying to fix that, she was juuuuuust knowledgable enough to get into Location Manager, the Built-In Ethernet configuration, the Internet Connect control panel, and a few other places, and screw everything up. After a half-hour on the phone restoring all of that, it became clear that the reason she'd done all that was that the cable system was refusing to give her an IP address (which matched what she'd said about the cable people asking her for her 'hardware address' and other stuff she didn't know) but in no way explained how she'd gotten everything to work the first time.

    I know it had; she has a .Mac account.

    So i give Apple full marks, since she did in fact manage to set up the machine (and give them her credit card number); I give Mom full marks for getting online, and I give her cable company the big FUCK YOU for screwing things up and (insult to injury) for their support website telling me I need a Windows-only plugin to read it and that my operating system (OS X or Linux) is not supported.

    FUCK YOU, Charter Communications!

    Posted by jbz at 5:03 PM | Comments (0)