Eric Lindsay's Blog 2008 February

Friday 1 February 2008

Authorising Computer for iTunes

After my iMac went off for repair, I authorised my Powerbook to play music I had synced from my iPod Touch. When I got my iMac back, it also wanted to be authorised, although I had done that basically when I bought it. A quick check in About This Computer showed I no longer had a serial number, since my logic board had been changed. Apple's article on authorization does not really cover this situation of having used up three authorisations with only two computers. The help system says you can de-authorise all computers, but that option is available only when you have used up all five authorisations. It took me a good five minutes to find that more helpful article. You can also try to de-authorise a computer more than once to get rid of multiple authorisations for the one computer. Unfortunately, when your logic board is changed, that doesn't appear to work.

The moral is that every time any sort of DRM gets involved, things get harder to use. I am not particularly worried about this, as I would never buy DRM music in any case. The only DRM music I have is free samples from the Apple iTunes Store weekly give away - none of which I've liked enough to want to buy. DRM is a pain in the arse for users, as it is defective by design.

Apple Specifications

Apple have a relatively complete set of links to the specifications for all Apple Macintosh and iPod models. First was my 15 inch Powerbook G4 with FW800, introduced 16 September 2003. I had an Airport Extreme Base Station with modem, introduced 7 January 2003, and connected wirelessly via modem. Music played via Airport Express, introduced 7 July 2004.

My first generation iPod Nano, introduced 7 September 2005. Later I got a first generation iPod Shuffle, introduced 11 January 2005.

My first Apple desktop was an iMac G5 Ambient Light Sensor model, introduced 3 May 2005. I bought a first generation iPod Touch, introduced 7 September 2007. Also an Airport Extreme Base Station with pre-n, introduced 30 January 2007.

Tablets of Drugs

I managed to get an appointment with the local doctor to renew my prescription drugs. Routine testing showed my heart rate was now down to around 42 bpm. Way too low. Plus I wasn't paying attention, since I had no symptoms. Back home after climbing 12 flights of stairs, I still had a low heart rate. I went down the steps again to get some sparkling wine and beer for my birthday, and came up the 12 flights of steps at a good pace (for a person my age). Pulse rate was up to 65 bpm, but that didn't seem all that high. Might explain my lethargy (I could just be lazy), and how I can have cold feet in the tropics. I think I will have to modify my beta blockers downward again. Probably before I get around to seeing the doctor again. No worries, self medication is a '60's trait.

Saturday 2 February 2008

Birthday Treats

Actually I expected none. Not a decadic birthday, so no-one would notice, except iCal, which isn't a person. Actually not true. Hog's Breath Cafe sent me their usually offer of a free meal, and it even arrived early. I really must take them up on the offer, as I do like the idea. I enjoy their food (although there is too much on the plate).

Apple Trendies

Funny article on pretentious Apple store behaviour. Since I bought my Apple PowerBook in Las Vegas four years ago, I have no idea whether the behaviour described is now standard. However the post about man-bag stores was funny.

Sunday 3 February 2008

These are programs Apple regard as best program in their class each year. I couldn't find the awards on the Apple site, but news sites had the winners of the 2005 Apple Design Awards and another the winners of the 2006 Apple Design Awards.

Automator Sites

Lots of nice things can be done with Automator workflows. Apple have a library of downloadable Automator actions. Apple developer have an Automator programming primer, while the Automator programming guide documents it. Automator US is a overview site. Automator World has user Actions, plus hints and tips. Mac Scripter also has a collection of Actions.

Monday 4 February 2008

But I Don't Want Windows Vista

We visited the Harvey Norman store at Cannonvale. Since there was (as usual) a sale on, Jean looked at the various computers. The thing is, they all (except for the Asus Eee PC) came with Microsoft Windows. Specifically Windows Vista. Neither of us have any interest in owning Windows Vista. We had enough trouble with Windows XP that I now use Apple's OS X, and Jean changed her Dell notebooks to Ubuntu Linux.

When we buy a computer, Windows is a waste of money. However it seems that dropping Windows Vista is not an option. I think avoiding buying Window should be an option.

Section 47 of the Australian Trade Practices Act prohibits certain types of exclusive dealing, including Third-line forcing. This involves the supply of goods or services on the condition that the acquirer also acquires goods or services from a third party. Third-line forcing is prohibited per se under 47(6) and 47(7). My view is that neither a supplier nor retailer should be able to force me to buy Windows as a condition of the purchase of a computer.

The ACCC notification process should provide sufficient protection for retailers and suppliers in beneficial cases of third line forcing. I could not find a third line forcing notification in the ACCC Exclusive Dealing Notification register.

Linux Leading Sales

Interesting article by Chin Wong in the Manila Standard Today pointing out that the Asus Eee PC takes five of the ten top notebook computer sales positions at Amazon, including first three places. There is no Windows computer in the first ten notebook computer sales positions at Amazon (the other five are Apple). This is a real change from when the only computer you saw was a Windows one.

On the other hand, Gizmodo says the Asus Eee PC honeymoon is over, as they review long term use. Major problem, the seven inch display. Another is the unstable operating system. Yet another accessing WiFi hotspots. Some comments dispute these comments, although a desire for a larger display is common. I suspect the major problem is that Asus are not a software company, and will probably not be able to keep up with the level of software updates and fixes needed by a commercial Linux distribution.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

Intel Menlow Silverthorn Low Power CPU

There isn't a lot of commentary about the Intel Menlow platform based Silverthorne CPU and the associated Poulsbo chipset. Silverthorne is a 45 nm simplified but compatible version of the Core2, similar to the 65 nm Merom with SSE3 support. However Silverthorne has a much lower power consumption, with TDP of 0.55 Watt compared to say 5 Watt for the ULV Pentium M Dotham currently used in appliances. Performance at the likely sub-1 GHz and up clock is likely to be similar to the old 90 nm Pentium M from 2004. In short, almost a ten times reduction in power used.

These Menlow chips due for release 2Q2008 are aimed at small Internet appliances or Mobile Internet Devices (MID) running specialised Linux builds and simplified GUIs. Samples run heavyweight Windows Vista like a dog. Plus Vista simply isn't designed to work well with small displays.

The follow up chipset is Moorestown, expected late 2009 or in 2010. It drops much legacy material (such as PCI), and should get even better power consumption. The ARM chip used in most mobile PDA and smartphone devices will still provide lower power consumption, but is not expected to have the same performance.

AnandTech MacBook Air Review

AnandTech MacBook Air review starts with pulling apart their new computer. I like this site already! Naturally they were interested in the 65 nm Merom based CPU in the MacBook Air. It has the 20 Watt TDP they had previously speculated about. I assume Intel were not willing to repackage one of the ULV models for even lower power.

The 1.8 inch PATA hard drive is a Samsung Spinpoint N2 model HS082HB, a 5 mm thick model with the optional 40 pin ZIF connector rather a standard PATA connector. The 16 RAM chips are spread half on top and half below the tiny motherboard.

Wednesday 6 February 2008

Telstra May Enable ADSL2+

Recent press release from Senator Stephen Conroy says 900 Telstra exchanges may be enabled for ADSL2+. Telstra's press release list how many exchanges and potential users may get ADSL2+ access. Naturally I am now attempting to find whether our local exchange at Airlie Beach is one of the favoured exchanges.

Naturally there are questions about the legality of Telstra not having to make the lines available to ISPs. I still think Telstra should have been structurally separated before it was sold off. They have a monopoly on the copper lines, from the time when they were a government department.

Thursday 7 February 2008

Google Notebooks

I briefly tried Google Notebooks. I had hoped I could use it as a location to store browser bookmarks. My logic was I mostly wanted bookmarks when I was online, so storing them online was a perfectly reasonable idea. Secondary logic was I want to sync my bookmarks with my iPod Touch, however I don't want all my bookmarks on the Touch. I only want a small subset. Therefore keeping the main bookmark list someplace else seemed to make sense.

Google Notebooks basically didn't work in Safari. Google do warn you about that. However I am not willing to use Firefox for my browsing, so that makes Google Notebooks no use. Pity.

Maybe I can write something to extract my bookmarks from Safari? Hmm, ~ - Library - Safari - Bookmarks.plist Only five key value pairs, nested deeper and deeper. The Property List Editor makes the structure of Safari Bookmarks look pretty straightforward. However a grep extraction means I probably need to use plutil -convert xml1 -o - to get the plist in xml. Or I could just use Safari - File - Export Bookmarks which does sound a lot easier.

Friday 8 February 2008

Power Outages

We had the electricity out at the Whitsunday Terraces three times today. It went off at 10 a.m. and stayed off until 10:45 a.m. At the same time, the water went off. I even checked on the radio to see if some major problem had happened. As usual, the radio was utterly useless. A few minutes after the power came back on, Chad visited to tell me it was electricians taking three blocks off the power, rather than the one terrace they expected. Still at least the common areas will now have protection against power faults.

Power went out again at 1 p.m. for a second or two, during a storm.

Power went off again at 4:46 p.m., for about a minute. Don't know the cause. My external backup hard drive hasn't connected since then, so I am annoyed. Firewire is quick, but seems very fragile.

Western Digital Backup Drive

I have a 1 TB Western Digital My Book Studio Edition. It worked as a stand alone drive for a while, using Firewire 800 to 400 cable. Yesterday I used it as a Time Machine drive. Took about 5 hours to back up 240 GB. Today I had about three power outages. The WD drive has not worked over Firewire since. I have tried various suggestions involving powering down both drive and iMac and attempting to connect. The Western Digital drive is not showing in Finder, System Preferences, or Disk Utility.

As it is a triple interface, I was able to connect it via the slower USB. Drive contents are intact, and Time Machine backs up over USB. I tried both Firewire ports on my iMac. I connected my other Firewire drive to the iMac. It works, so that proves the iMac Firewire port is OK. It is looking distinctly like the Western Digital My Book problem is either a faulty WD Firewire port, or possibly a faulty cable.

I should have a chance to try a different cable over the weekend. I will also be able to try the drive on a different computer. That should establish where the problem is.

Saturday 9 February 2008

Cataloguing Books

How do you keep track of your books, so you can find them on your shelves, and not buy duplicates. I don't think this is a computer problem, hence this reply to a new posting.

Seems more like a "system" problem than a software problem. If you were seriously troubled about getting your books under control, you wouldn't have waited for apps like Books or Delicious Library. You would have already had them in, say, a text file as CSV or similar, and doing grep searches. Or you would have subverted iPhoto or iTunes as a catalogue (iTunes actually works reasonably well for storing books you have in PDF).

First step is to ask whether you actually have your books in any order? If you don't, you probably should think about doing so. My science fiction is all in author order, although I have hardcovers separated out. My non-fiction is mostly in Dewey order. There are separate piles for To Be Read, and To Be Filed. That does help with searches. Every now and then you need to reorder shelves, etc. On the other hand, since I moved from a two floor home (containing around 10,000 books) and got rid of most of my books, I have been less organised.

Data entry comes a lot later. To be honest, a big collection is really overwhelming. I only broke the back of my data entry when a friend was unemployed for an extended period, and crashing at my place. I wrote a little front end to do CSV records, and I paid him to do data entry (this was on a 1 MHz 6502 based OSI, back mumble mumble years ago). Find someone who would work cheap, pay them by the book, not by the hour. Enslaving children can work. Don't expect perfect accuracy. Do make sure you put the books back on the correct shelves.

Whatever form the data takes, make sure the essentials from it can be printed in a catalog you can take to sales and/or into Notes on your iPod or PDA.

Screen Brightness Keys Fail

The screen brightness keys (F1 and F2) on my aluminium Bluetooth keyboard abruptly failed to work soon after some OS X upgrades. No change in display brightness, no on-screen display of the settings. The other special function keys like volume (F10, F11, F12), Expose (F3) and Dashboard (F4) continued to work. I was able to determine that they actual F1 and F2 keys still functioned for other purposes, by using them in combination with Option (Alt). Naturally I blamed Leopard updates.

However the actual cause was connecting my 24 inch Dell monitor. As I have a new motherboard, the Dell works only as a slave of my normal display. It seems that the brightness control keys have decided they can't work while this particular external monitor is attached.

Screen Spanning Fails

My screen spanning to an external monitor failed after my iMac G5 ALS motherboard was replaced. Annoying, since I don't know whether the old iBook software actually handles Leopard. Screen spanning itself works, but the installer may need to be different. It had to be updated for Tiger.

Sunday 10 February 2008

Cell Phone Radiation Harms Brain

Radiation from cell phones hurts rats' brains claim Swedish researchers. About ten years ago they showed cell phone radiation helped cause leaks in the blood brain barrier in rats. I suspect sooner or later we will find that heating effects are not the only thing to worry about.

Martian Gullies

Martian gullies carved by melting snow, say planetary scientists. This helps explain how water gets into a zone where the ground is too cold for water to come by breaking through permafrost. Snow, mixing with dust, would more easily absorb the limited sunlight. Interesting speculation.

Monday 11 February 2008

Subliminal Politics

Campaign advertisement may have swayed voters subliminally. Short subliminal flashes of negative messages have been shown to have a negative effect of the views of experimental subjects. Time to ban their use in political and advertising campaigns. The Republicans used this trick against Al Gore some years ago.

Chemicals Dangerous Until Proven Safe

Scores of contaminants course through people's veins, however we treat these as innocent until proven otherwise. Given the time between exposure and evidence, perhaps it is past time to treat industrial pollutants as dangerous until proven safe? Some easy examples, asbestos, lead, tobacco.

Tuesday 12 February 2008

Apple OS X Leopard 10.5.2

I updated my iMac G5 ALS to OS X 10.5.2. Between the Leopard update, QuickTime and the Graphics update it took from 5 a.m. to 6:25 a.m. for the download. Restart at 6:25, and a couple of reboots, and the system came up without my wireless mouse and keyboard at 6:44. The wireless was soon detected. Started the Leopards graphics update #1 at 6:47, and the final reboot was complete at 7:07 a.m.

So far there are no obvious problems with the Leopard upgrade. On the other hand, it hasn't solved my various Time Machine problems, with my Firewire drive connection disappearing.

More Torrential Rain, Boats Sink

More torrential rain and 30 to 40 knot winds overnight and in the morning. Reports of many (37) boats sinking in Pioneer Bay and washing ashore at Airlie Beach. ABC news of boats sinking at Airlie Beach. Additional ABC news of flooding over North Queensland. Among the boats washed up or destroyed were Patience, Yandina, Kaliedoscope, Ladyhawk, Soya. Insurance representatives later said 50 boats were damaged, and the damage bill will exceed $10 million.

Three Whitsunday Police (Sergeant Russell Oike, Senior Constable Simon Docking and Constable Bree Sonter) braved difficult conditions and rescued six members of the family of Omra Stone living aboard their small 80 year old vessel Empress in the bay near the Coral Sea Resort. The uninsured boat was destroyed against the rocks by three metre waves.

ABC reports of tourists rescued from a sinking ketch at Hook Island. Thirty two German backpackers and five crew were saved by two rescue helicopters from the 18 metre charter yacht Romance. This washed up on rocks on the exposed northerly coast of Hook Island at Caves Cove. Newspaper report after the event were critical of Tallarook Dive Charters not assisting the backpackers. Tallarook Dive Charters were reported not being a member of any accredited tourist boat organisation. There was no reported response from Managing Director Wayne Bailey, pending completion of a Maritime Safety Queensland investigation.

Gas cylinders from damaged boats washed up along the foreshore. Others were later discovered floating at sea.

Rainfall again closed Gregory Cannon Valley Road. Three homes in a row were damaged by fallen trees in Eshelby Drive, Cannonvale. Nearby, Jones Road was again a major problem, with a tree lodged between boats, and a large shipping container washed into the middle of Jones Road. Stormvogel Drive was also damaged by overflowing creek water.

Many areas again lost power around 2 a.m., with trees bringing down down powerlines. 962 homes in Proserpine, Mount Julian and Crystalbrook, and 1362 in Strathdickie. Most around Proserpine had power again by early morning.

Wednesday 13 February 2008

Boating Disaster

The recent wild north winds and resulting lively seas broke around 40 boats from their moorings in Pioneer Bay. From our balcony we could see one boat being pounded to pieces against the walls of the Port of Airlie marina construction. When I went for a walk on Airlie Beach, I could see five boats on their sides on the beach, and two in the mangroves near the sailing club. There were another two on the rocks near Airlie Creek. Another boat was wedged on the rock wall at Airlie Beach Lagoon.


Had my regular talk with my financial advisor. He says my major problem with the current government regulations involving superannuation pensions is that I will probably end up with more pension per year than I use in some years. If this happens for enough years, I end up with funds outside the superannuation system, instead of inside it. But I will save by my superannuation funds not having to pay the previous 15% tax in my superannuation investments. A lot of people would like a problem like that.

Relatively few people in Australia started putting money into superannuation from the time they were 16 years old. Unfortunately in years like this one, where the stock market plunged, my superannuation investment earnings also plunged. So the pension level I have to take exceeds my fund earnings, even though I didn't need and don't want that much pension. Keep a depressed stock market return down for long enough and you don't have any income producing assets left.

Historically the stock market has been fine in the long term. I am already diversified in cash equivalents and defensive stocks. Returns on fixed investments in Australia will be higher over the next few years as the Reserve Bank keeps raising interest rates to battle inflation. But what a blunt instrument interest rates are in a two phase economy! West Australia and Queensland are powering ahead, on mineral exports and population growth.

I will do well out of fixed rate investments, but probably not as well as stocks long term. I am looking for some more cheap international stocks over the next few years, maybe 10% more out of cash, for the long term. Also in the long term, if my pension distributions exceed my personal expenditure, I end up with funds in a taxable form, instead of in superannuation. This seems to be a problem I can live with.

Over the next few years I could get a job (if something interesting appears) and salary sacrifice 100% into superannuation to boost my funds. That is something the government is encouraging, to keep older people in the workforce. Unfortunately this area is about tourism, and the surrounds about mining. With my continued neck problems, and low pulse and blood pressure, I probably couldn't handle an active job.

New Architecture Web Site

I finally managed to work the interface to NetRegistry so that it actually accepted me as a customer, and let me buy a domain for a few years. I am still not sure how this was different to the previous attempt to get that domain. I needed to move Whitsunday architect James Riddell of Airlie Beach from a personal site to Cyclone Studios, the new business name for this fine Whitsunday architectural practice. Although I asked for the DNS to be moved to my usual domain host when I bought the Cyclone Studios name, this didn't seem to happen until I manually changed it at NetRegistry. Not sure why that was so. After that, domain name propagation was a lot faster than I had expected. The site was being found that afternoon.

I was able to put up a temporary site for Cyclone Studios that afternoon. Using Cyberduck as an FTP client was more convenient than rewriting my usual Here document script for the command line FTP in Bash shell. However Cyberduck really did seem slow. Of course, Telstra restrict ADSL uplinks to a crawl in Australia, so that probably has nothing to do with Cyberduck. Also Dreamhost stopped accepting the file transfers several times. I checked that manually with the command line FTP, so it doesn't appear to be a Cyberduck problem. It was only 9 p.m. or so where Dreamhost have their servers, so it wasn't the time of day I would have expected routine maintenance to stop me from doing a file transfer. Dreamhost was online, and were not showing any server problems in their support Wiki. I never did find what the slowdown was, but eventually the site (which is only about 10 MB) was in place.

Next I have to rewrite some specific bits more relevant to the old site. I will keep the old site, since some visitors may find that easier to locate, and redirect visitors to the new site for updates.

Thursday 14 February 2008

Boating Disaster

We drove over to the Abel Point Marina, and walked the boardwalk at the ocean front. We could see one vessel sunk on the rocks at the marina entrance. There were four or five boats run aground on the rocks below the boardwalk. A salvage barge was next to one. People were clearing up the scattered debris on the foreshore.

At the Cannonvale beach there was a solitary boat stranded on the beach. We could also see several boats aground in the mangroves.

Friday 15 February 2008

Airlie Beach Bum

I started working on content for a new web site Airlie Beach Bum. This is a more cynical site about Airlie Beach and events here than my earlier and now ten year old Airlie Beach web site. I got totally sick of the upbeat tourism sites, that never seem to find anything wrong with the place. Given the number of protests, that really isn't the case. Airlie Beach Bum deliberately looks at the backside of Airlie Beach. Instead of the glossy project brochures showing an artist's impression of new resorts, it is intended to show the actual muddy, dirty, stuffed up construction sites.

I started the Airlie Beach Bum web site with a list of potential topics, and copied a blank web page template for each topic. Added title and h1 text as it occurred to me, with very little layout. Well, actually, none at all. I did write valid HTML, with a crude semantic structure of h1 and h2 headings, each containing one or more paragraphs. I hate to succumb to divitis, but I can not see any way to group all the paragraphs between one heading level and another as a single item for styling. So I made a div with the class name article. This is styled for two column layout (for those few browsers that can handle a few CSS3 features).

Mackay Flooded

Mackay had over 600 mm of rain in a few hours from 3 a.m. Friday morning. This resulted in widespread flooding and roads being closed. Over 1000 residents from this city of 90,000 had to take shelter in evacuation centres when homes were damaged. Floods moved cars and shipping containers. Hospital bridge was under water. Snakes escaping rising flood waters entered parked cars. Schools and businesses were closed, and Mackay declared a disaster area. ABC news report of Mackay flooding.

Saturday 16 February 2008

Leopard Upgrade

Since my iMac G5 Leopard upgrade had worked well, I updated Leopard to OS X 10.5.2 on my old Macintosh Powerbook G4. Took from about 4 a.m. to do the 180 MB download, and was complete around 5:45 a.m. No sign of hangs or other problems initially. So far I am fairly pleased with 10.5.2, although I do think Apple runs so lean that they keep hitting resource crunches. Against this, I know all to well that adding another person to a lean project often just slows it down even more.

Flooded Again

Mackay suffered heavy flooding yesterday. Many roads cut, and hundreds of residents had to evacuate their homes. When the phone system is OK we will contact our friends there to learn how they went. The Bruce Highway is cut both north and south of Proserpine. Shute Harbour Road to Airlie Beach is cut near Proserpine. The local news agent tells me the newspaper delivery truck got as far as Proserpine, so he expects to get a paper delivery sometime today.

Sunday 17 February 2008

Sqlite3 Database

Macintosh Leopard includes SQLite 3.4.0, the shell program residing under /usr/bin. Sqlite has been available in OS X for several years, and is available also via CoreData. It is used in various Apple applications, such as Apature and Mail. Sqlite is a small C database library, written by Dr Richard Hipp, for manipulating structured data files.

The SQLite web site includes SQLite documentation. There is a lengthy SQLite tutorial dating back to 2004. The SQLite FAQ covers some questions that might arise.

While checking for a GUI front end for SQL, I ran across WikiNotes, a Wiki using SQLite as persistent storage. It also claims to put your Wiki notes into (older model) iPod Note format for Museum mode. Unfortunately it lacked a cursor for the entry mode, and every second line of text disappeared. Gave up on it after a very few minutes (not that I am a Wiki enthusiast at the best of times). Maybe like some other applications, the older WikiNotes doesn't get along with Leopard?


Another 145 mm of rain from the tropical low that seems to be hanging over the far North for Queensland for the past week or so. Mackay has had widespread flooding, that may be far greater than anyone expects. It lacks the drama of rescues, but perhaps 1000 people are in shelters, from a population of 90,000. It is possible that thousands of homes will be uninhabitable, in a town already straining at the seams.

Airlie Beach is probably still cut off by floodwater across Shute Harbour Road. The Bruce Highway was cut both north and south of Proserpine. The only reason tourists are still in town is they couldn't get away.

Monday 18 February 2008

iTunes Number Two

Apple's iTunes Store overtook Best Buy to take the number two place for USA music retail sales, behind the massive Walmart. 50 million customers. 20 million sales on Xmas Day. iTunes overtook Amazon in June 2007. It entered the top ten in November 2005, overtaking Tower records, Sam Goody and Borders. This sales increase is despite what seems to be increasing acrimony between Apple and the music industry. How else to explain Amazon having music without DRM when Apple mostly does not? Like many others, I refuse to buy any music infested with DRM, under any circumstances.

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Rain Decreases

It wasn't actually raining this morning, despite having 145 mm of rain on Monday. The roads were no longer flooded. Backpackers were able to escape the town. I did see that Watersun Road was closed in one direction. A mudslide that had taken down trees. A variety of large (chest height) bounders had fallen down from the hillside onto the road. I sure wouldn't want to have a house up there in the path of these landslips. Looks way too steep where the developers put in new roads and started selling land that mountain goats would find a problem.

It was so fine that I did two loads of washing, for the first time in weeks. I didn't risk putting the laundry out on the Whitsunday Terraces balcony to dry, but it didn't rain as far as I can tell.


Jean yelled she had good news and bad news. She had been transferring honey into a squeeze container, and got distracted by a meal. She heard a thump, and found a kitchen gecko embedded in honey in the bottom of the squeeze container. She poured the honey into a dish, so it spread thin. Even though I think geckos are a noisy menace, I scooped the gecko's head out of the honey. A few seconds later the gecko started wriggling. Made its escape to its usual hiding place behind the fridge. Their skin is amazing. Even honey has a hard time sticking to it.

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Knots, braids, Jones polynomial

A quantum version of braids could lay the groundwork for tomorrow's computers. Knots and space time braids may be the link to working quantum computers. The connection between computer science and quantum physics is a knot invariant called the Jones polynomial. Sounds interesting.

Antarctic Glacier Speed Up

Glaciers surge after ice shelf collapses. After the Larsen A floating ice sheet broke free from Antarctica in 1995, five glacier feeding it speed up by at least a factor of four over the next five years. This suggests the presence of a floating ice shelf at the bottom of a glacier significantly slows down the progress of the glacier.

Thursday 21 February 2008

When Drinking Helps

When drinking helps is if you are male, and wanting some protection against heart attack. Moderate drinking, when older, and only with meals, is the key. Since alcohol is a poison, binge drinking is very risky. Plus it seems likely that pregnant women put their children at risk with any level of drinking whatsoever.

Radar Images Killer Crater

Radar images of 180 km Chicxulub crater in Yucatan, taken from space shuttle in orbit.

Friday 22 February 2008

Pollution from Trees

Scotch pines emit nitrogen oxides, contribute to air pollution. Northern pine forests may emit nitrogen oxide levels comparable with motor traffic. Why did it take so long to find this? Trees were studied under greenhouse conditions that reduced exposure to ultraviolet. When UV transparent glass was used, the nitrogen oxide emissions were discovered.

Nicotine Dangers

More bad news for nicotine addicts, and drug pushing tobacco companies. Nicotine might promote tumours and wrinkles. Nicotine's widespread effects result primarily from its imitating the natural stimulant acetylcholine.

Saturday 23 February 2008

Airlie Beach Bum

I tested my new Airlie Beach Bum website under Windows using Browsershots. I don't have any computer that uses Windows, however the browser most likely to cause problems is the Windows only Internet Explorer. While IE has been providing support for Cascading Styles Sheets right from its very early days, that support has continued to be a problem. I write my pages as HTML Strict 4.01 (since XHTML is not supported on the web), and style with CSS 2.1 (and some CSS3).

Safari 3.0.3 on Windows 2000 gets everything correct. This includes experimental CSS3 support for visual effects like drop shadows on text. It also does rounded corners on objects, and box shadows on objects. Since I wrote the page for the WebKit rendering engine, this is not surprising.

Konqueror 3.5 under Ubuntu 6.06 does everything correctly except experimental rounded corners on objects, and box shadows on objects. It did handle text shadow.

Opera 9.26 on Windows 2003 naturally fails to support experimental drop shadows. Opera 9.50 under Ubuntu 7.10 handles the text shadows. Like Safari, Opera does get the tricky triple colour logo at the bottom of the page correct in all respects. There does not seem to be support for column-count, so there is no two column layout. I also didn't see support for rounded corners via border-radius.

Firefox under Windows 2000 has problems with the vertical alignment of the logo, so the two colour renderings do not match. Same problem with Firefox 3.0 / Ubuntu 7.10. Netscape Navigator under Windows 2000 renders the logo badly aligned just like Firefox, as does SeaMonkey 1.1.8 under Windows XP. Naturally Firefox (and the other Gecko based browser rendering engines) can't handle CSS3 experiments like dropped shadows on text and boxes. Firefox does have support for column-count, so it shows two column layouts.

Internet Explorer 7 worked better than I expected. It looks like it handles max-width on the content. IE 7 accepts auto to centre the content, which no previous Internet Explorer did. No version of Internet Explorer handles the logo at the bottom of the page. At best they show the top half only.

It is not worth using Internet Explorer 5.5. IE5.5 doesn't know how to handle auto or max-width, so headings are displaced to the left off the page. Internet Explorer 6 is a little better at horizontal positioning, so you can actually read the text, positioned to the left of where it should be.

Paraffin Fuelled Rockets

Paraffin wax could become the world's cheapest, safest, most environmentally friendly rocket fuel. Hybrid solid fuel, liquid (oxygen) oxidiser rockets can be switched off, unlike Shuttle boosters. However most solid fuels burn too slowly. However if a fuel forms fine droplets, its surface area increases, and it burns quicker. You just need the right solid fuel. Paraffin is a fully saturated (with hydrogen) hydrocarbon. As rocket fuel, a small amount of fine carbon black is added to block radiation.

Sunday 24 February 2008

New Lenses

Unconventional new lens techniques give great depth of field. Wavefront coded lens produces blurred image, but computer processing restores infinite depth of field. Other ideas for fast motion detection via dome with holes over sensor.

Thermoelectric Coolers

Generally thermoelectric coolers have been inefficient. Research Triangle Institute nanoscale thin film thermoelectrics may change that, with very fast acting miniature thermoelectric modules. Cascade power modules producing one watt from burning butane have been demonstrated with 20% efficiency.

Monday 25 February 2008

Jean's Birthday

We finally decided to take advantage of the free meal Hog's Breath Cafe offered me for my birthday. February is often a bad time to eat out in Airlie Beach, as it is usually hot, humid, raining, or all three. We are usually out of town in February, which also reduces the chance we will eat out at a restaurant.

Did Life Start in Deep Sea Vents?

Did life start in undersea thermal vents? The iron sulfide theory for the origin of life. Researchers suspect that the two major groups of bacteria, known as archaebacteria and eubacteria, originated on two separate occasions about 3.8 billion years ago in tiny chambers formed naturally in vents. These chambers substituted for the cell walls needed to protect early life.

Tuesday 26 February 2008

Adobe AIR

Adobe AIR Rich Internet Application (RIA) is another attempt to lock the internet into proprietary formats. In this sense, it is just like its competitor, Microsoft Silverlight. If anything, it is slightly worse, because it is partly based on Flash, a power hungry piece of shit that works really badly. Avoid it. Avoid any web site using it. If nothing else, a lot of web advertising disappears if you have removed Flash.

If Adobe can't even write a workable Flash Installer and Uninstaller, what makes anyone think they are capable of writing a whole application platform? This does not seem like a useful idea. These write once, run everywhere applications typically suck. They look terrible, don't suit your desktop GUI paradigm, and generally run slow and steal cycles. I have learnt through long, bitter experience to totally avoid anything that needs Java (write once, run nowhere). Adobe Flex seems like more of the same. Programmers seem to love this shit. As a user, I hate it. Luckily I control what runs on my computer. I wipe these stupid products off my hard drive.

Apple Store Updating

I wonder why the Apple store goes offline when they are updating? A decent update system could avoid that, so you have to figure part of the offline crap is deliberate. Of more interest, just what product is being updated at the moment, if any? Should be the MacBook Pro, but what if Apple update the MacBook only to Penryn? Performance too close to the Pro then. However you wouldn't do a box redesign until the new support chips are out, and that isn't until much later in the year. I would count the Penryn 45 nm CPU change to be a minor upgrade. 10% performance, 10% battery life at best. Probably no CPU package shrink , and thus no laptop case shrink as yet.

It would be nice if the iMac went to quad processor for the top model, but I don't think the thermal envelope allows that as yet. Also, the mobile version of the chip is probably not available until the end of the year.

Airlie Landslides

More landslides in the Whitsundays. This time a 50 metre long 30 metre wide landslide at Whitsunday Drive, Shute Haven. This time the rocks and dirt took the entire temporary restraining wall with them, despite council efforts.

Additional note. Airlie Beach supermarket proprietor Greg Lange said he had been running the supermarket (next to Airlie Creek) for 22 years. He claimed the store had been flooded seven times.

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Apple Upgrades Notebooks

Macbook and Macbook Pro updates, with both moving as expected to the 45 nm Penryn CPU, with Macbook Pro at up to 2.6 GHz. Most models went to 2 GB of memory as standard, except for low end combo drive Macbook.

Macbook Pro also makes the NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics with up to 512MB of video memory available. Hard drive capacity can be optioned to 300 GB. Macbook Pros also have a multitouch trackpad, although probably not the new larger model trackpad from the Macbook Air. The Macbook Pro retains the original illuminated keyboard and ambient light sensors. You can option the 17 inch model with a 1920 x 1200 LED backlit display, instead of the 1650 x 1080 that is standard on the 17 inch.

Macbook still comes in white or black plastic. Speeds are 2.1 GHz and 2.4 GHz, with 120, 160 or 250 GB 5400 rpm hard drives. They have the Intel X3100 integrated graphics. All seems like a perfectly reasonable specification bump.

The current change gets the Intel roadmap Santa Rosa Refresh into Macintosh laptops. Buying a hardware model that Apple has had lots of experience with seems a cautious approach. The Penryn change alone would only give about a 5% performance increase, unless some application happens to have SSE4 support. However power consumption may be down as much as 15% between the Penryn and the LED display backlight.

I can't see major changes now until the Montevina support chips start being used, later in the year. Penryn would then need Socket B motherboards. This would coincide with Intel rebranding Centrino 2. It would not surprise me to see a case redesign at that point, especially if small case Penryns are easily available. I would prefer to see the Montevina platform in widespread use for a while before buying it.

Plus there is the expensive quad core QX9300 Penryn, which needs Montevina support. I keep wondering about a quad core iMac.

iPod Touch firmware

Revised iPod Touch and iPhone firmware. 1.1.4 is listed as a bug fix. Breaks Jailbreak phone (again). It seems a large download (163 MB). Although I gather Apple simply replace the entire phone firmware, so this size has been standard on other updates. Since I am not having any problems, I will wait for reports before updating.

Thursday 28 February 2008

YouTube Off Internet

Nice article on how Pakistan killed YouTube on Internet. Pakistan took over the domain name for YouTube, asserting some of its routers were the correct ones to provide the IP numbers of YouTube. Technically it was probably accidental, but it does help show the risks of BGP route hijacking. How long before a bunch of people try doing that on a large scale with serious intent?

Firefox vs Safari APIs

Interesting article Finding the OS X turbo button on speed limits on Firefox scrolling now it is using Cocoa instead of Carbon. Vladimir gives very interesting pointers to exactly what was happening in the Mozilla code when scrolling slows down. Vladimir also references the tech notes from Apple about Quartz coalesced updates to the frame buffer. The suggestion for how to force faster updates will not work prior to OS X 10.4.4. Safari gets around that using private frameworks that may not end up as a published API. Points to the tension between developers outside the tent and those inside the tent. The comment in Vladimir's blog by David Hyatt from the webkit team helps understand the background.

As usual, Slashdot got it wrong, because their initial article is a troll. The slowdown is documented, has been since around 2006. Plus the Apple tech notes explain why it is there, and how to avoid it. Luckily many of the more serious comments on the Slashdot item do show they understand this, and explain the technologies involved.

Friday 29 February 2008

Cute Gadgets

Humanizing gadgetry to tame the flood of information, by having pseudo man machine interactions. Machines that signal an interruption, but go away if you appear to be busy. Personally, I think the way to minimise machine interruption is to switch off a few of the gadgets.