Eric Lindsay's Blog 2008 April

Tuesday 1 April 2008

New Apple iBook Atom

Apple announced this morning their new Intel Atom powered iBook. Like an oversized iPod Touch, this is a complete OS X compatible Apple internet appliance, the size of a slim paperback book. This is the second of a new line of Apple internet appliances (as distinct from phones), of which the iPod Touch was first. These light consumer models not only lack the traditional Firewire, Ethernet and Modem ports of the original iBook notebook computers, but they also lack an optical drive and a replaceable battery, as pioneered on the Air.

Taking Apple's minimalism a step further, the Apple iBook Atom also lacks a keyboard, mouse and hard drive. The on screen keyboard pioneered in the Apple iPhone eliminates a need for a traditional keyboard. As the 720 x 480 display is a touch screen, you do not need a mouse. You can however use an Apple Bluetooth keyboard and mouse if you really have to make lengthy text entries. The iBook uses built in, non-expandable solid state memory which acts as a small hard drive. Major archive storage is expected to be a networked Time Capsule routing your internet connection, or networked to another household computer.

Exceptionally low cost computers using the Intel Atom from other manufacturers will need to use a Linux operating system. Even Vista Starter (the stripped down developing country version) requires more hardware than is available on a low cost Atom system. Microsoft do still make Windows XP Starter Edition in developing countries, and will until June 2010. That low cost, cut down Windows XP Starter Edition may be made available on low end Intel Atom. The alternative for Microsoft is they all run Linux.

However Apple do not have any true low end desktop computers. Their high end Atom based slate iBook computer does not compete with MacBook or iMac. Despite a full OS X onboard, the performance of the Atom and the likely memory means no one will attempt to run any Apple Pro application. Even iMovie 08 needs more performance. However OS X already comes with a nice range of low overhead, minimal input consumer applications. Plus iTunes takes care of synchronising your address book, calendar and other data, just like on the iPod Touch. The Apple iBook Atom will eat Windows XP Starter Edition on internet appliances. Happy 32nd birthday Apple.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Geo sequestration Trial in Victoria

Pilot plant stores carbon dioxide underground as a test for keeping the coal fired power plants running. The A$40 million trial is a decent size, at 100,000 tonnes a year, for a pilot plant. The pilot plant funding nearly all came from government. There will be two years of tests of how well the compressed gas is retained 2 km underground in old oil and gas reservoirs.

The launch by Federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson didn't go to plan. Wild winds blew down the power lines, cutting power to the plant, delaying injection of the carbon dioxide.

Mind you, Australia produces around 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, with 80% of its electricity coming from coal fired power stations. Potential sites exist in Victoria, offshore in the Gippland Basin, in the Bowen Basin in Queensland, in the Copper Basin in South Australia, and offshore in West Australia. No known sites exist in NSW. I wonder how long they can keep using an expensive process like this before someone decides it just isn't going to work?

MacBook Air Disassembled

There are articles comparing MacBook Air with MacBook Pro, and finding the comparison unfavourable. Others point to better performance from solid state drive in the MacBook Air, under some circumstances. benchmarks really show how much performance the MacBook Air gives away. However what is actually in the MacBook Air?

There are several accounts of disassembling the MacBook Air, of which iFixit was probably first. They include some nice high resolution photos. Another disassembled MacBook Air at Anandtech, with details of replacing the 5 mm thick hard drive.

Apple's official MacBook Air developer documentation mentions USB 2.0 controller, which in turn supports the Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR module, built-in iSight camera, built-in trackpad and keyboard, infra red remote receiver, and one external, high-powered USB 2.0 port, as part of the integrated South Bridge IO system. This is referred to as part of the Intel ICH8 chipset, with full ICH8 specification sheets in pdf.

According to Intel, the ICH8 contains up to two Enhanced Host Controller Interface (EHCI) host controllers that support USB high-speed signaling. High-speed USB 2.0 allows data transfers up to 480Mb/s which is 40 times faster than full-speed USB. The ICH8 also contains up to five Universal Host Controller Interface (UHCI) controllers that support USB full-speed and low-speed signaling.

The ICH8 supports up to ten USB 2.0 ports. All ten ports are high-speed, full-speed, and low-speed capable. ICH8 port-routing logic determines whether a USB port is controlled by one of the UHCI or EHCI controllers.

Apple use the high speed ports for the external USB port, and for the built in iSight camera. Apple use full speed (slow) ports for keyboard, trackpad, infra red remote receiverand Bluetooth.

The ICH8 also contains Gigabit Ethernet functions via a PCI bus.

John Maushammer found extra USB pins inside MacBook Air, although all are low speed.

Thursday 3 April 2008

Intel Atom

Nice overview of Intel Atom CPU architecture from Anand Lal Shimpi of AnandTech. Gives an excellent introduction to what is happening with Intel's newly renamed Silverthorne processor. While I realise the similar low power embedded AMD Geode from four years ago (via NatSemi and Cyrix) basically went nowhere, except for Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child OLPC. I think there is a lot more potential in internet appliances.

Friday 4 April 2008


When we went shopping today, Jean bought herself a new Canon Powershot camera with a larger pixel count than her previous (highly satisfactory) model. However when she tried to first use it, it beeped at her because she hadn't read the manual and set the thing up correctly. Thus the manual writer is caught not reading the manual! It deigned to work once she had set the date and time.

My camera shopping was for a camcorder to computer 4 pin to 6 pin Firewire (IEEE1488) cable. Somehow the one I used to have had totally disappeared. Now I have no excuse for not transferring more movies from DV tape into my computer.

Saturday 5 April 2008

Netgear Router

I am still having internet access problems, which I blame on Apple OS X 10.5 Leopard. However I also suspect my Netgear DG834G v2 ADSL modem and router may have obsolete DG834G v2 firmware. It certainly looks like it, checking at telling me V1.05.00. That is several years old.

However, do I really want to upgrade firmware when I don't have an alternate router available in case the upgrade fails to work? Better Google for some more answers.

At present my Netgear DG834G v2 shows downstream line attenuation as 21 dB, and upstream as 12 dB. Noise margin upstream is 19 dB, upstream 31 dB. I have seen Telstra will allow up to 56 dB attenuation, but around 20 dB is good.

Telstra BigPond ADSL Modems

The standard ADSL modem sold by BigPond is a 2Wire 2071-A ADSL Wired Gateway. The 2Wire web site is useless (which is why I don't link), with essentially no information about their ADSL modems. External comments indicate the 2071-A has Ethernet and USB. Various people who have pulled them apart say the construction quality looks good. Telstra probably want to eventually do online upgrades and fixes, to reduce support costs.

The list of ADSL modems supported by Telstra is reasonably extensive, but looks pretty dated. The list includes my existing Netgear ADSL Router/Modem - DG834Gv2 (05.10.2004), but with totally obsolete firmware. I can not believe these Telstra tests were for ADSL2+

Sunday 6 April 2008

TCP and UDP Internet Ports

Well Known TCP and UDP ports used by Apple software products lists the network ports used by Apple products. It also references the RFCs related to that port use. The standard ports appear, well, standard. No luck here with any clues as to why Leopard should have these intermittent wireless network connection problems.

Monday 7 April 2008

Free Disk Space on MacBook Air

How do you free extra disk space on MacBook Air? The Macintosh OS X operating system has to include a variety of foreign languages. In addition, for user convenience, it includes a variety of printer and peripheral drivers for devices you may not use. Applications may also have similar files occupying additional space. These can be removed manually, although it may be tedious. Once you identify things that need to be removed, you could write some sort of script to automate that.

You could remove and reinstall the operating system entirely, optionally selecting only the components that you want or need.

Obvious files to remove manually from Applications would be .lproj language directories.

There are existing programs that remove surplus files, where someone else has done the work of identifying what can be removed. XSlimmer removes surplus Universal Binary code, and removes additional languages. Costs around US$12, and mentions it works with Leopard, the latest version of OS X.

A visual depiction of files as treemaps by X Disk Inventory is another tool, and is free and open source. Interface looks helpful. Grand Perspective is another freeware that does a similar but less elaborate tree mapping.

Monolingual removes additional languages, and surplus code. It is an open source project. The original author gave it up some time ago. Does not mention Leopard compatibility at the time I checked. You do need to be very careful about using the correct settings - the defaults must not be used. The readme file is essential reading. Monolingual should not be allowed to strip PPC architectures when used on an Intel machine. Doing so will break applications that need to run under Rosetta emulation. It will probably also break code signed applications in Leopard, by not allowing them access to the Keychain after being stripped. If you don't understand what this means, don't use Monolingual. Basically it works best if you understand what you are doing, and where the risks are. Make sure you have a Time Machine or SuperDuper backup before running it.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Multitasking is Digital Distraction

The multitasking many tech geeks do is Digital Distraction, according to Gloria Goodale. Mastering the high-tech tools that help us can be counter productive. Instead of working, we are thrashing. We mostly get things done one task at a time, not really multi-tasking.

David Allen's Getting Things Done ideas are well received by many computer enthusiasts, pushed also by sites such as Lifehacker, which is even promoting Saturday 3 May as Shutdown Day, where you find whether you can live a day without using a computer.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Cassette Player

When I returned to the market I took Glen the little Teak cassette player. Like me, he wants to rescue some old cassettes. So far the cassette recovery has involved less than 7 GB of audio for me. However Jean's old mood music was about 11 GB. Her marketing stuff ran up over 46 GB so far. At least I can just convert that to MP3, and get rid of the original AIFF.

Clean Up Applications

All very well to download and play with new applications. However cleaning up after discarding an application can take more time than it is worth. AppZapper lets you drag an unwanted application into it. It lists any places it can find code and libraries that may belong to an application you want to uninstall. Makes it much easier to remove more of an application. US$13, with free upgrades for life. Five free zaps before you need to pay.

Even easier to use is the AppTrap preference pane (which does mean it uses some ongoing resources). Drag an application to the Trash. AppTrap pops up and asks if you want to delete other files associated with that application. AppTrap is free and open source.

Another free application remover droplet is AppDelete. The last update was prior to the release of Leopard. You can log the files to be removed. It places the removed application and associated files in an appropriately named folder in the Trash, so you can inspect the contents before you empty the Trash.

Thursday 10 April 2008

Mighty Mouse Batteries

I had to replace the Lithium AA batteries in my Bluetooth wireless Mighty Mouse again this morning. I hope I noted each time I replaced batteries, as I would like to know how long wireless mouse batteries tend to last.

Friday 11 April 2008

Screw Loose

I had been complaining my old Jason LazYBoy recliner chair back was not remaining in position all that well. Spotted a screw with washer under the chair. Closer inspection under the chair showed two mounts that probably kept the base of the upright back in place. Should have been two screws in each metal mount. No screws at all. I don't recall if I ever found other screws loose on the floor (probably), but if I did, I don't know where they are now. One of the metal screw holes was so badly torn up that replacing a screw there was impossible. That is really annoying.


FLAP arrived from Gary, in a fancy Priority Mail envelope sent from Durham on 29 March. Gary had printed my emailed contribution. Now I have no excuse not to get to work doing a timely response.

Saturday 12 April 2008

PowerBook G4

I started downloading the various software updates for my old Powerbook G4 around 4:30 a.m. About four of the twelve require a reboot, although one reboot covers all of them. Why reboot? I can see it for some drivers, but this is getting really silly. This is Microsoft reboot territory. On the other hand, it has been about two months since I last rebooted the Powerbook.

It is sort of annoying that you have to keep returning to the keyboard to add administrative passwords. I believe you can get around this by doing the update from the command line, but that is hardly typical Macintosh user behaviour.

Looks like about 300 MB of downloads, mostly application updates, although one is security, and a few are to support external Airport hardware. How does anyone on a dial up connection manage to run any recent computer system? It is bad enough when I have all the bandwidth of our 512 kb ADSL.

Time to grit my teeth and pay Telstra or Big Pond their $130 a month monopoly rent to get ADSL2+ enabled. Oh wait. BigPond doesn't actually support Macintosh wireless connections over your own modem. Thanks for the support.

Cassette Conversions

Since I had about 4 cm of weekend newspapers to read, I started my iMac converting the 78 cassettes I had captured as AIFF files over the past few weeks. Well over 40 GB. Transferred them from the external drive into iTunes. That took long enough. Then a conversion to MP3, which took even longer. Redlined the CPU at around 99%, and maxed the fan speeds by the time it was done. However it didn't require much intervention, and since I was reading the papers, I didn't have to put up with computer slowdowns. Jean seemed pretty happy when I presented her with a couple of data DVDs containing all the cassettes she had not been able to listen to in many years.

Cassettes captured: 27 March, 5. 28 March, 11. 29 March, 17. 30 March, 0. 31 March, 1. 1 April, 6. 2 April, 11. 3 April, 10. 4 April, 9. 5 April, 11. 6 April, 11. 7 April, 14. 8 April, 7.

Cassette Bar Chart

Special thanks to Google for their Google Charts API that generated that silly little bar chart for me.

Sunday 13 April 2008

Photo Conversions

I finally set up the new Brother DCP-150C multifunction scanner, copier, ink jet printer we bought as an emergency copier at Harvey Norman a week or so ago. The install directions are a bit vague, and the controls are a little annoying, but otherwise it seems very acceptable. I was able to scan to jpg files the little package of ancient photos of my mother and her friends that had been sitting here for ages. I think the gadget will get a lot more use as a scanner than as a copier or printer. Jean has a laser printer for her larger print runs.

Google Chart

I retrofitted a Google Chart into my entry about the audio cassettes I had rescued and recorded on my iMac. I have to say it takes a while to figure exactly how to write the Google URL manually. However the Google Chart api isn't really intended for manual entry. If I look like doing that sort of chart more than a few times I guess I will write something to create the URL for me. With a bit of luck, dozens of people are already writing little utilities to generate Google charts.

Monday 14 April 2008

Skyhook Wireless Internet Location

Skyhook Wireless wifi location service have created a form to submit wireless access point location data to Skyhook. I used it to submit the MAC address and geographical location of our home wireless access point. I notice that Airlie Beach Sailing Club also have a good coverage from their ROAM service, so once I confirm their location at the club house, I will add their position as well.

It will be interesting to see if my iPod Touch can find where it is. The Apple and Skyhook press release says an iPod Touch can get location information from wireless access points.

In 50 years, every location will be so thoroughly mapped with wifi equivalents that local councils will not bother to put up street signs. After all, the embedded map location service will do a better job, and virtually everyone except neo-Luddites got the implant before they entered grade school.

Download YouTube videos as MP4

I absolutely hate Flash video. However there is a bookmarklet to allow a browser to download MP4 versions of YouTube Flash videos. The bookmarklet worked fine in Safari on an iMac.

This use probably breaks YouTube terms of service. However since I refuse to view Flash videos, being excluded from YouTube Flash causes me no concern whatsoever.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

Thinking about Data about Data 1

Nothing to do with StarTrek.

Handling metadata has been a problem for me of late, and this is something I didn't expect or consider. For most of my life, items I collected either didn't have much metadata, or the metadata was essentially intrinsic rather than extrinsic.

Music on records or cassettes had the music as the only data. The metadata (singer, composer, publisher, orchestra, date, lyrics, etc.) was part of the record label, or album cover, and thus extrinsic to the musical data, but stored as an intrinsic part of the item itself.

Books had the contents of their pages as data. These days material presented on the title page may include the name, author, publisher, publication date, ISBN edition, and so on. A book may also include production information in a colophon, although that has fallen somewhat out of favour. Thus their metadata is intrinsic.

Early printed publications lacked equivalent intrinsic metadata such as a title page. The incipit of a text, the first line or so, was used to identify the content. Obviously this was inconvenient when publishing expanded.

Libraries added value to books with organised extrinsic metadata in their catalogues. This data was sourced from the intrinsic data of the title page, but organised by author or title. Later extrinsic organising metadata like Dewey number or Library of Congress cataloguing added more value.

Thinking about Data about Data 2

Originally photographs or film slides contained only the intrinsic data of the picture. There was essentially no metadata. Any metadata was added by the photographer, noting details of the subject of the photograph. For most of us, this went little beyond a collection of labelled shoeboxes full of a jumble of unidentified photos. Or perhaps we went as far as albums, with some labels.

Computer data processing permits extensive manipulation of external metadata formerly only in restricted access catalogues in a limited number of physical locations. Look up online exactly which books many libraries contain. Plus for some publications there is the possibility of adding more extensive metadata, such as Dublin Core or in Australian government, AGLS.

Computers can add metadata to many media. Music in mp3 often has ID3v2tags. These may include song, artist, album, composer, band, genre, year it appeared, track and disk number, beats per minute, even album artwork and lyrics. This metadata will accompany the music. You can sometimes obtain some of this music metadata from co-operative web sites such as Gracenote CDDB, MusicBrainz or Freedb if converting music from records, cassettes or compact disk to a computer format. Organisational material you generate, such as filenames, playlists, or the number of times a song has been listened to, are external to the content of the song.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Thinking about Data about Data 3

Modern digital camera photographs in jpg may include within their internal camera manufacturer EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format) header information the camera maker and model, pixel counts, when the photo was taken (according to the camera), shutter speed, aperture, focal length, whether a flash was used, and so on. Additional descriptive information in IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) format can be included within EXIF headers.

My problem with photos is that I am scanning all the old photos I still have into the computer. However physical photos totally lack metadata.

Although scanned photographs sometimes include some metadata from the scanner in their EXIF header, the vast majority of that metadata is irrelevant to the original photo. Luckily you can get EXIF editors that allow you to include more relevant and potentially useful details, such as the date you believe the photo was taken. Sometimes people change the date of the file in the computer to reflect when the photo was taken. This is not nearly as robust as including the information in a photograph. A computer date can be changed when it is transferred to a different computer or different file.

While the very press oriented ITPC headers will probably eventually be displaced by Adobe's XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform), many EXIF editors can add ITPC information to photographs. This allows more general information such as photographer name, copyright holder, license information, key words, and subject matter.

While ITPC data allows information about location within a city, state and country, EXIF allows even more accurate GPS (Global Positioning) latitude and longitude co-ordinates and altitude. With some cell phones providing GPS positions (at the expense of battery life), and the proliferation of GPS driven maps in automobiles, high end cameras should soon start offering GPS data as part of the data in a photograph. You can also fit GPS data to photographs after taking them. Location based searches are starting to get far more popular on the web.

Cameras these days can identify which parts of a photo are human faces, and fine tune exposure and distance to suit. It seems a small step to actually attempting to include the names of the people in a photograph into the metadata. Initially probably by typing on the camera viewfinder, or selecting from a pick list. Adding such metadata to scanned photographs seems a reasonable thing when post processing the scans.

Thursday 17 April 2008

Thinking about Data about Data 4

The more I use computers, the more my general belief is that metadata needs to be kept very close to the data to which it refers. Metadata included within a file is retained much better than metadata held as extended attributes pointing to a file. However data in a file pointer is far easier and quicker to manipulate. This argues for having the metadata within the file as a master, and using the file pointer as a secondary copy of the metadata.

I hardly need to point out that all this wonderful searchable metadata is essentially inaccessible without a computer. Keeping metadata with the photo means it can replicate all over the place, so it can be used for remote searches. Plus there is the risk of excessive data falling into the hands of someone you do not trust (like Google) or even worse, your local democratic Government.

An actual physical photograph can be processed unaided. However until someone else has physical possession, it is unlikely to be used against you.

Solar Bonus Scheme

The Queensland Government Solar Bonus Scheme purports to be about promoting Green Power. Customers signed-up to the scheme will be paid 44 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for surplus electricity fed into the grid – around three times the current general domestic use tariff of 15.45c/kWh. Although the claim is that the average consumer operating a 1 kilowatt (kW) solar system could save up to 25 per cent on their electricity bill, this is unlikely. By their own figure, the average household uses 10 MWh per year. A 1 kilowatt solar power system is highly unlikely to generate a surplus for the average household, as it will only produce around 5 kWh a day.

The scheme is limited to 8 megawatts of solar capacity, or around 8,000 homes. This is just another piece of spin to make it look like governments care about Green electricity. The place solar electricity makes sense is remote areas where power is at present generated by diesel generators. Unlike coal fired power stations, diesel generators can be switched off and on with very little notice. Replacing diesel use five or six hours a day with solar would reduce greenhouse emissions.

At least The Courier Mail has reported the cut in value of the solar plan. I doubt it would even be worth the $300 cost (plus wiring) of getting a new electricity meter wired into a household, let alone the surplus cost of a solar power system, even after Government rebates.

Friday 18 April 2008

PayPal To Block Safari

The computer press claim PayPal say they will block users of Safari from using PayPal, claiming insufficient anti-phishing protection. PayPal needs to understand that people use the browser they find works best for them, not the browser PayPal thinks they should use. If I wanted nanny state protection, I would ask for it. PayPal should ensure their facilities work with any browser. That is what the web is all about. On the other hand, the computer press should stop mentioning Safari when PayPal didn't. This is the usual press FUD, building on Apple as a sure source of wider circulation.

The day PayPal stops me using whatever browser I want to use, is the day I drop PayPal and eBay from any use whatsoever. Not that I use either much. I don't trust PayPal enough to give them my credit card details. eBay appears to be a fruitful source of con men and fraud. Alternatives to both would be most welcome.

Saturday 19 April 2008

A Portable iTunes Library

My iTunes library on my iMac is way too large to keep on a MacBook Air. However it should be possible to trick iTunes on a MacBook Air into treating the iMac iTunes library as an external music library (use Option key when starting iTunes). If so, having a subset of the iMac iTunes library copied to the MacBook Air should provide a local library as a subset of the main music library. Lifehacker shows how to move your iTunes library to an external drive. See also Apple's support notes on moving an iTunes library. Note that the two methods above are different.

Another possibility is a backup of your iTunes music following various hints on backing up your music.

Sunday 20 April 2008

iDisk Syncing

The DotMac iDisk sync lets you synchronise what is probably a sparse bundle package in ~/Library/FileSync across multiple computers via a disk image uploaded to the DotMac website. I keep wondering whether you could make a local copy of iDisk to assist in syncing a MacBook Air. You would want to exclude iDisk from the Time Machine backup, to avoid excessive storage of the image.

Apple have how to backup and restore files, which lists files for Safari, Address Book, iCal, Keychains, Mail preferences and messages. Safari bookmarks are all stored in a file called Bookmarks.plist, which is located at ~/Library/Safari/. For Address Book, Open and choose Back up Address Book from the File menu. Open iCal, then choose Back up Database from the File menu. Keychains are located in your ~/Library/Keychains/ folder. Your Mail accounts, rules, signatures, and Smart Mailboxes preference settings can easily be backed up.

It would be really nice if the MacBook Air could be added to the list of devices iSync can use. Smart phones and Palm PDAs are all very well, but I want to use my MacBook Air sort of like a giant PDA (with grunt).

Monday 21 April 2008

Time Machine Backup Too Large

Up around 4 a.m. thanks to morning rainfall. The 4:39 a.m. backup wanted to save around 16 GB of changes. This is an impossible amount. I simply had not changed more than a fraction of that file size. Most backups consist of only a few kilobytes, at most a few megabyte. Around 6:41 when the backup completed, Time Machine then wanted to backup around another 20 GB. Time Machine is also grabbing around 50% of my CPU and pushing my fans to their top (noisy) speed after a few hours. I switched Time Machine off.

My main drive had 197.53 GB of free space when I left it.

Around 8:30 p.m. I enabled Time Machine again, and forced a backup. This time it wanted to copy 14.8 GB. Again, the actual changes in my drive are minimal. The Time Machine backup went straight past the 14.8 GB, and continued copying files. This is silly. My free space is still 197.52 GB, so there is no substantive change in the file space I am using.

So far I have not even found a way to determine which files Time Machine is copying incorrectly. In considerable annoyance, I excluded the Library folder from backups (in case some sort of log file was being continually changed). This resulted in System Preferences eating over 70% of CPU while it tried to calculate the size of the Library folder (14.1 GB). The next Time Machine backup wanted to do 8.8 GB. I switched Time Machine off again. This is a pain.

Mackay Visit

Another trip to Mackay so Jean could be checked by her surgeon. We left the Whitsunday Terraces a little after seven, and so were able to stop at Bunnings Hardware in Mackay before the 10:15 appointment. As usual we had to take a travel bag, just in case the Bruce Highway was cut by floods before we returned. We noticed that the Spotlight store was still closed, with flood damage still being repaired.

After much searching, we found Bunnings had Bedford brand kitchen pantry cupboards of just about the dimensions we needed. Although deeper than the 300 mm we wanted at 409 mm, the single door model was 450 wide. We wanted to replace two 600 mm wide open cupboards, but had some extra space. Three 450 mm wide cupboards would be just about right for the space. Price was good, at under $100 each in white melanine. The quality was less than startling, however we only need them to last ten years, since we will probably have to move by then. The cupboards would have been fine.

Alas, Bunnings do not actually have a delivery service of their own. We basically needed an idea of the freight cost. The prospect of having to organise three 31 kg parcels each 2000 mm long and 450 wide made the whole thing too difficult. We left for Jean's scheduled appointment, and did not return to Bunnings to buy anything.

OfficeWorks was next on our list. I wanted some double sided photocopying. 40 of 8 pages for FAPA, 31 of 8 pages, plus 31 of 4 pages for ANZAPA. 692 sides at 9.5 cents each came to $65.74, plus 102 staples at 3 cents each. Photocopying anywhere in this area is pathetic value. After you get your photocopying, it costs $5 to send the copies to Melbourne. No big deal. However sending the 40 copies to the USA costs a staggering $25. No wonder email is killing off the Post Office.

Next door at Dick Smith, they had a small low end Samsung ML-2010 22 page per minute desktop laser printer compatible with Linux, Macintosh and Windows at $74. It comes with a skimpy 1000 page starter cartridge. Gets good reviews for text quality, but graphics have banding and are at best only fair. A USB cable to connect it is probably a quarter the cost of the printer. So I could have probably printed my copying on a Samsung printer almost as cheap as at Office Works, and had a printer left over at the end. However the ML-2010D3 3000 copy combined toner cartridge (and print drum) was $125. Seems like another case of buy a printer, and throw it out when the toner is empty.

I was annoyed their neither store had any of the items I actually wanted to buy. This country is like a swamp in terms of gadgets.

A SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus card with an SD memory card suitable for cameras. Fold half the card down and it reveals a standard USB connector on the other end. No need for cables or card readers. They have been available elsewhere since mid 2005. Still not available in local stores here, not even the ones that claim to stock them like Camera House. Pathetic.

I was also seeking an Eye fi, a wireless WiFi SD memory card for cameras. Transmits your photos direct to your network from within the camera. They are more recent, first appearing towards the end of 2007, after being pre-announced in late 2006. I think it would be a perfect thing to match to a MacBook Air.

I couldn't even find a Fellowes Gel Wrist Rest and Mouse Pad, despite OfficeWorks selling some Fellowes products. I have been trying to get a spare for my existing one for years now. Probably another item where I will have to build my own. Wonder where the Dremel is hiding?

We gave up on visiting Matilda Internet, the local Apple dealer, and Jean decided she couldn't face looking at another Subaru (across the road from Matilda), so we got lunch at Canelands. We had to drive there, despite being only a street away, as we couldn't see how you could safely cross the heavy traffic on the road on foot.

On the way out of Mackay, Jean let me stop at WOW Sight and Sound. I had been wanting to visit for ages. A triumph of advertising over experience. The noise level would have driven me out even faster if I had been able to locate the exit door. Hideous maze of a place. Like a JB HiFi on steroids, but with even less taste. So much for that romantic illusion of fine shopping.

Just behind us in the parking lot was a Howards Storage World. I had not had much luck in my only previous visit to one of their stores. However we were able to take our time. Jean found a butter container, something she had been seeking for years. Even better, we found some undershelf wine glass storage racks in chrome (PC5043 according to their catalogue). With dimensions of 22.5 and 27 cm deep, these looked like they would actually be small enough to be able to replace the wine glass racks that had been spitting fractured pieces of rust marked PVC all over our kitchen for the past five years. I was very happy about that. Stainless would have been even nicer than chrome in our corrosive seaside environment, but chrome works.

We had a good drive home, despite both being in torpor. Stopped at Bloomsbury service station and got some of the best milkshakes on the Bruce Highway. Works for me. Didn't have dinner.

Seeking Changing Files

Now I am seeking whatever file is being changed (if this is what is happening) in Time Machine. There is a free and open source utility called Grand Perspective that shows the size of various files. Not exactly what I need. However Grand Perspective can be a very handy indicator of files eating space. Alas, I couldn't find anything suspicious.

A variation called Time Machine Perspective can be pointed at your backup drive. The idea is to exclude files that are not changing, to identify those that continually change. Unfortunately the Time Machine application was not supported on my iMac architecture, so that didn't get anywhere. I really, really hope that I don't have to write my own backup routines. That was what I had to do with Windows. It was a factor in my dumping Microsoft.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Rich and Happy

The Easterlin Paradox just plain does not exist, hence no paradox. Rich people are happier than poor people. What is more, the richer you are, the greater your chance of being happy, and the less likely you are to be unhappy.

What is more, richer countries are happier than poorer countries. None of this cultural richness down on the old farm. It is bullshit, as this Gallop Poll on income and happiness shows. The relationship between happiness and log income appears nearly linear.

Finally, the historical record shows that as countries get richer, they tend to get happier.

This isn't what the socialists wanted to hear.

Tax Freedom Day

The average Australian is now clear of national, state and local government taxes, for the first time this year. If you had spent all your money paying taxes. The tax take from government pirates is now an average of A$15,335. Staggering, isn't it?

Time Machine Drive

Somewhat belatedly noticed this Apple article on Time Machine stops backing up to external drive. The problem is that although Apple can use a number of hard drive partitioning schemes transparently, this does not apply to Time Machine backups. Time Machine needs a Macintosh partitioned and formatted drive, since it makes special use of HFS+ facilities only in a Macintosh formatted drive. Drives formatted with a Microsoft style Master Boot Record (which drive makers tend to do by default for the convenience of Windows users) must have the partition type changed. I had to discover that for myself some months ago.

Excellent discussion of Time Machine backup strategy, especially how large files that change slightly can be a problem. Lists many such problem files.

Applications that will cause problems with naturally include almost any method of running Microsoft Windows. This is because a large virtual image is created for Windows files, and this is changed slightly whenever Windows is run. So exclude the Parallels virtual disk image. Also exclude any secure disk images or FileVault you may have created (I think Time Machine will exclude FileVault anyhow). Exclude any mail program that uses a single database file. This means exclude Microsoft's Entourage, and probably Thunderbird mail. Apple's Mail program is just fine, as it uses numerous little files for mail. On the other hand, prior to 10.5.2 you needed to exclude Apple's Aperture file vaults from TimeMachine backup. Adobe Photoshop scratch files should be excluded (or switch TimeMachine off while working).

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Apple Buy PA Semi

PA Semi are a 2003 fabless semiconductor design outfit of about 150 people, formed by Alpha and Strongarm designer Dan Dobberpuhl. There is previous history between Apple and PA Semi. Previous to this Apple were partners with Acorn and VLSI on ARM designs, so they have worked in this sort of area previously. Their Newton used an ARM, as does the iPod and iPhone. PA Semi wanted to design a low power (5-13 watt at 2 GHz) dual processor based on the PowerPC processor licensed from IBM. Both Apple and PA Semi would obviously now have a lot of experience moving between ARM and their PowerPC based designs. This gets more and more interesting.

The PA Semi chips draw too much power for phones, and have too much horsepower. They got some design wins in the military for their Power based low wattage chip. This looks like something between an iPod Touch and a MacBook Air, and on power consumption, closer to the Air. Apple could do it with Intel's Atom, but this gives them a second possibility. Apple now say they bought the company for the engineering skills and intellectual property. People who are good at dropping power consumption are always a good find. However I have to say Apple already do impressive work in that area. My Watt meter can't even detect my MacBook Air power supply when it is sleeping. However, low power isn't the only feature. Apple like having a lock on their products. Customs chips that do things nothing else can handle could give them freedom from ever worrying about clones, plus splendid hardware enhanced performance in some key areas.

Apple Store Sydney Suburb

It seems Apple plan to open a store at Chatswood, according to these photos on Flickr by Adam Searle. The Apple store is at Chatswood Chase, a four floor complex of about 140 shops around 10 km north of Sydney. Local reports say that is the south entrance of Chatswood Chase, shown in this Google map of Victoria Avenue, Chatswood. Initial reports incorrectly indicated the Apple store might be at Westfield Chatswood.

Thursday 24 April 2008

MacBook Air Bag

I came upon an Apple discussion thread regarding cases and carry bags for the MacBook Air. A premium price item, so some readers would probably pay premium prices for bags.

Low priced sleeves included Case-mate Glovez in neoprene lining and nylon exterior at $10. InCase neoprene sleeve in lots of colours, with zippers along the long edge. Wrappers cordura sleeves and linen sleeves, from the UK, priced from low up to $100. Incipio's Orion sleeve in 8 colours, 6 mm thick, synthetic leather, high density foam padding, and micro suede interior, but no zipper. Shinza ZeroShock III Macbook Air sleeve in polyurethane foam with a zipper and a small zippered pouch. Bit larger than some due to egg crate foam. A local AussieBag sleeve with extra power brick bag and keyboard protector and mouse mat that is easy to buy in Australia as well.

The trouble with sleeves is that notebook computers don't actually run on batteries. They hold their breath between power outlets. You also need to carry a generally bulky power brick and power cord.

One of the nicer travel bags was Tumi leather business small expandable computer brief. Tumi even have a store in Sydney, only 2200 km away. They don't list prices. So that probably means a motza.

Novelty bags are mostly variations on an image of a manilla envelope. Blame Steve Jobs for the original presentation. Lots of fun (until you lose it in the mail room). Manilla Mac was an early, handmade MacBook Air envelope. Another is InterOffice Mac in vinyl with a cotton twill lining, with a zipper at one end.

Of course, instead of a novelty or sleeve, you could just buy some bubble cushioned mailing envelopes at around $1 each.

Some computer bag makers just don't get it. All Flash sites, which probably look beautiful. This means they will not be indexed by Google (search bots don't use Flash). It means the site does not conform to W3C recommendations for web sites. Since someone seeking an Apple computer bag will probably be using an Apple, if that person uses Flash, it will be the crippled and CPU hogging version that is all the clowns at Adobe supply for Macintosh. My attitude is, I don't view Flash (thus avoiding heaps of web site advertising).

Discarded sites using Flash include Vaja Cases ivolution shell, Fabrix Cases, Louis Vuitton.

Apple Store George Street Sydney

Apple Store George Street Sydney glass front installed in early April. Then the black covering went up. Alas, there is nothing in the interior of the Apple store as at last report. Apple do have council work permissions for extra hours of construction until 20 May. There is a Flickr group of photos of the Apple store, George Street, Sydney, and here is a Google map of George Street, Sydney.

Friday 25 April 2008

Internet Black Spots

Nice article on internet blackspots on the Australian MacTalk forums. It points out the Hubble Internet blackspot monitoring system, operated by the University of Washington. Their Google mashup maps are driven via MaxMind location services, who provide free open source api examples.

Free WiFi in Australia

As you would expect, Free Australia Wireless are promoting the idea of making WiFi more readily available. People in Sydney are using Meraki WiFi access points to build meshing networks. Review of Meraki Mini-Pro wireless access point sharing. There is a Meraki and Open Mesh forum. Free Australia Wireless also cover Fonera and the Spanish devised FON network system. FON allows free Gmail and Google Maps access, and it seems that Google may have invested in FON.

Meanwhile, Intel claim a long range rural wireless connection will be available via Intel RCP (rural connectivity package). This is a two way directional link needing around 6 watts at each end (solar power should work). At the rural end, you spread the signal using conventional WiFi (or perhaps a mesh networked WiFi).

Saturday 26 April 2008

Ergon Clean Energy

Little flyer from Ergon with the electricity bill, about changing to Clean Energy to help reduce reliance on fossil fuel. Clean Energy uses renewables like wind, solar, hydro and biomass. For $30 a quarter, you can buy enough Clean Energy to power 25% of the average regional Queensland home.

So if $30 a quarter supplies 25% of your energy, then $120 would supply all of it clean, per quarter. Which means around $500 a year for the average home. Now, just what did we hear about clean energy not costing all that much more?

I was surprised to note a wind farm in Queensland (average winds are way below that needed for wind turbines). The twenty 44 metre high windmills (with 22 metre long blades) at Windy Hill Wind Farm are on two dairy farms near Ravenshoe, the highest town in Queensland, and are at 920 metres. These are relatively small wind turbines. Power output of wind turbines increases as the square of the blade size, and the cube of the wind speed. I don't think there will be a lot of suitable wind farms sites in Queensland.

World IP Day

Celebrate world intellectual property day said the Australian Government advertisement for IP Australia. They gave examples of iconic Australian intellectual property such as Rexona (Unilever), Vegemite (now owned by Kraft USA), Hill's Hoist, Mortein, Victa lawnmower, the ESKY, Speedos (manufactured in China), the baby safety capsule, and the polymer bank note.

Sunday 27 April 2008

Should Police Obey The Law?

At least one Portland, OR citizen, Eric Bryant, thinks so. He arrested a policeman for illegal parking, when the cop, Officer Chadd Stensgaard, parked outside a Chinese (Chinese? SanSai Japanese Grill?) restaurant to collect takeaway food. Bryant charged the cop with illegal parking, illegal stopping, obeying parking restrictions on state highways, and illegal operation of an emergency vehicle or ambulance - the violations carry fines totaling $540. It will be interesting to hear the court results from that on 23 May. I hope Boing Boing will report further. I also notice there is an entire website about illegal acts by New York public servants, with close to 1000 posts a year. Should be more of it.

Monday 28 April 2008

Get a USA iTunes account

Nice that some people give details of how to get a USA iTunes Sore account. I haven't tried it, but the instructions look plausible.

Tuesday 29 April 2008

iMac Update

Just when you start expecting updates on a (USA) Tuesday, Apple brings them out on Monday. I was suspicious when the Apple Store was down last night. The Updated iMac have (unexpected, but not Montevina platform chips, so there are claims of an 11 watt TPD difference) 1066 MHz Front Side Bus. Clocks on the mobile Penryn Core 2 Duo go 2.4 GHz, 2.66 GHz, 2.8 GHz, and optional 3.06 GHz (previous model was 2, 2.4, 2.4 and 2.8). Video starts with ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT with 128MB GDDR3 memory or ATI Radeon HD 2600 PRO with 256MB GDDR3 memory (these are the same as the previous model), and the 24 inch has optional NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GS graphics. I didn't notice any model downgraded to a Combo drive, so all have an 8x SuperDrive. Hard drives range from 250 GB to 500 GB, with options for 750 GB and 1 TB.

Prices appear unchanged at US$1199, US$1499, US$1799 for the 24 inch, and US$2199 for the speed bumped 24 inch with 500 GB drive and NVIDIA 8800 GS (8700M GT) graphics. This is the low end of the 8800 range, and is probably thermal limited in the iMac form factor. The new Australian prices (previous prices in bracket) are A$1599 (A$1698), A$1999 (A$2149), A$2399 (A$2599), A$2999 (A$3269). Memory is up from 1 GB to 2 GB on the two middle models. The price changes reflect variations in the relative exchange rates. To take the A$2399 model, the pre GST price is A$2180.91. This is US$2040, so Apple still have around a 10% premium on the USA price. Not nearly as much of a premium as some previous models.

It appears the only displays are still glossy. Alas, there is no indication Apple will offer a matte display on the iMac, so I still can't replace my increasingly dated iMac G5 ALS with another matte display. Look at this photo to see how horrible the Apple iMac glossy display is. That iMac glossy display appears unusable to me, sitting in a well lit room in the tropics.

It is also likely that the 20 inch model 1680 x 1050 displays are again the inferior 18 bit laptop style using temporal dithering. No details of the 24 inch 1920 x 1200 display as yet, but last time they were true 24 bit H-IPS, which is a nice (albeit costly) decision. All the old 20 inch iMac G5 models seemed to have true 8 bit colour displays (I don't think the 17 inch models did). About all I can say is check the displays in a shop. If you can't see the difference, then fine. However I do see a difference.

I think this new model is the equivalent of the iMac G5 ALS model. Fixes any major problems encountered in the earlier aluminium face Macintosh. However the following iSight model added camera and remote control. It also made the model almost impossible to pull apart to repair. The next model may follow the same pattern of some interesting addition to the hardware.

Discussions of these Apple issues continues, without any indication anyone has been through it all before.

Transfer and Synchronise between Computers

One of these essential computer data things that seems simple, except it hardly ever actually works correctly. You do need to note the major differences between syncing folders, and syncing the contents of calendar and content files.

A beta product called My Sync used to exist. It eventually became Sync Together from Mark Space, who specialise in various syncing products, mostly for PDAs and Smart phones. The SyncTogether description says all the right things. Unfortunately there seem to be a lot of negative reviews.

More a comparison product, for all types of systems, the commercial zsCompare did not sound as if it specialised in what I wanted to sync.

Martian LifeBoat backs up to USB drive to give a portable copy of your important data.

Martian SlingShot synchronises folders and iTunes Playlists to another computer over your network. That is a part of what you need.

With an older model YouPod uses iPod and carries your data to another Macintosh. Even uses Applescript to automate some of your work. This one sounds interesting, as it specifically covers Address Book files, iCal, browser bookmarks, Keychain, and even iPod music shares.

ChronoSync synchronises folders and has a good reputation. It has nice scheduling.

Far Finder lets you connect to your Mac from the internet in a way that appears somewhat easier than Back to your Mac.

FORneXtSoft have QuickSync 3 for synchronising folders with any other device with a file system.

SoftoBe offer folders Synchronizer X in a full and lite version. Been around since Classic.

Qdea have a range of synch software, including Synchronize! X Plus, Synchronize! Pro X.

Designers Domain have a simple Universal FileSync available free for Leopard.

See this tutorial on syncing Google calendar with iCal for using SyncML or XML syncing over the web. You can easily subscribe iCal to a Google calendar. There is a $20 commercial Google and iCal sync program gSync available, using Apple SyncServices, or write your own with Python iCal and Googlecalendarsync code from Google Code. Another web based product with calendar (and contact) syncing is Plaxo. The review of BusySync says it allows iCal sync via a preference pane over a local area network, or via internet. Another commercial Google Calendar product is Spanning Sync. You can place public calendars on iCal Exchange. If you have a SmartPhone. you can sync iCal via your phone.

Wednesday 30 April 2008

Reverse Parking a House

OK, it wasn't a house. It was a large, five room display office for the Port of Airlie Marina. They were moving it from the first display area where stage one was to commence, to another site on newly recovered sea bed. They jacked up the place, backed a large truck under it, stuck more metal beams in on all sides. Cut down even more nearby trees. With a bulldozer helping for the first ten metres or so, they moved a couple of hundred metres or so over the course of several hours. The first bit included a water crossing, where they had filled the water course. That looked tight. The truck did a lot of backing and turning. An umpteen point turn to get the truck facing us. It was a pretty impressive piece of work.