Thursday, 18 December 2008

Tell it like it is

I have just received an email including an "amazing offer" on subwoofers which ended as follows:

"Take advantage of a great offer to increase your profits in this the season of St. Commerce!"

Rightee ho then...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

A clever man wrong-footed

The chaps at the firm I used to work at had a lot of respect for this man. His tale of woe is a sobering one and goes to show just how tough it is to be a value investor with a reputation for contrarian genius.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Deliciously Geeky

Some interesting facts about the speeds of componentry within your computer - or "Why do I still have to wait while my computer does stuff..."

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Apple's Rev A issues apparent again

My much-loved and well used 17" MacBook Pro 2.4Ghz from 2007 died inexplicably and completely a few weeks ago. Powering on produced an audible hard-disk spin-up but nothing else: no ability to reset PRAM, certainly no single-user mode, no firewire target disk mode, nothing.

My first reaction was panic - and I legged it down to the Apple Store to grab a replacement machine and dropped my old one back with Apple. It turned out to be the NVIDIA logic board issues that plagued a run of 2.4Ghz 17" Pros and they repaired it for free... which was great as I noticed from their receipt that the part would have set me back £675 or so!

But, and apologies for the long-winded intro, my issues really started with the new 15.4" MacBook Pro I bought to tide me over... It was the new model that had been out for a week and so I was most definitely back in 'Rev A' territory.

First, there was the intermittent trackpad click issue which they resolved with a firmware update. (It manifested itself for me in not responding to clicks or taps on occasion.)

Then there was the lack of RAM (I couldn't buy the 2.56Ghz model with 4GB of RAM because the Apple Store didn't have any) so I purchased 2 x 2GB from Crucial via MacWarehouse. This I fitted and immediately started getting full computer freezes. The entire UI would freeze and I would be unable to do anything but hold down the power and force a reboot (not ideal when in the middle of an AutoCAD plan in VMWare). I knew this must be a RAM related issue so I suspected dodgy sticks and ran the comprehensive (and mammothly slow) MemTest. All came out fine and indeed the RAM is not giving problems in any other way. But the freezes continue.

Now for the really weird bit - I have never had one of these when the machine is in my office. Yet the moment I start work at home, on the kitchen table, I will get one within minutes... Is it in some way prompted by something on my home network?

There is plenty of talk on this Apple Discussion thread about heat but I really feel that this is not the right line of investigation as I have used it on stands, for hours at work under heavy loads and in all manner of configs hot and cold with no freezes occurring.

And in the 2 weeks that I used the machine without the new RAM I never had a freeze so I am pretty sure the RAM is the root cause but such erratic symptoms are odd.

So Rev A issue 3: I use a 24" Apple display at work connected to my MacBook Pro as a secondary monitor (an ancient one using the DVI to ADC converter) via the new Display Port and if the Mac displays go to sleep when you wake them the external display will be covered with shimmering, coloured lines and it has to be disconnected and reconnected to restore it. This is quite frustrating to say the least because windows have to squeeze back onto the single monitor and then fan out onto 2 again and they don't always get back to the same places so you have to do the dance of the toolbars and palettes.

So those are 3 fairly key issues that I believe Apple should really not have allowed to ship. There are many people new to Apple buying these units and they will be very disappointed - and in many cases they will wonder why Apple has such a reputation for stability in contrast to Windows.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The funnest ipod ever

And apparently Michael Phelps is the winningest athlete ever.

God give me strength.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

3 day weekends - it just feels right

So, I got to thinking this morning (channeling Carrie) that 3-day weekends are actually quite a good thing. Just off the August bank holiday I found that I had time to spend with my family, time to do some work and get the jump on items for next week, and time to do those boring chores like clear out the vaults under the road...

And then I saw this poll at Lifehacker and I was very surprised by the numbers.

I am in the Yes camp - but maybe when that's the norm, and one is pushing 14-16 hours on a 10 hour day rather than 11-13 on an 8 maybe it wouldn't be so sweet.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

MobileMe - the road to nowhere

In a very unusual move for the control freaks at Apple it seems that Steve himself has sanctioned a blog to report on the continuing travails with the newly launched MobileMe.

The first line goes as follows:

"Steve Jobs has asked me to write a posting every other day or so to let everyone know what's happening with MobileMe, and I'm working directly with the MobileMe group to ensure that we keep you really up to date."

And the last:

"We'll post another update later this weekend to report on status..."

I am hoping for some real honesty as I can report the following issues just in my small circle of MM users:

  • My mother-in-law has been unable to access email for more than a week, during which time her account expired and the billing did not auto reactivate (as it was set to). I can now not get the authorisation through to bring her back online.
  • I ordered the Family Pack in order to rationalise 2 accounts for my wife and a third for myself (which we only use for calendar and contact syncing) and after 8 attempts it seems one of them was successful insofar as one of her 2 accounts now shows as Family Member but there is no sign of the Master Family account so I have no idea how to manage this.
  • During that process I received some comical server error pages - my favorite being attached.
I am now at a complete loss when it comes to resolving these issues as support chat is taking days, the phones are useless and there seems to be little acknowledgement that the card payment system is on the fritz.

Therefore, my hope for the blog and the author's comments later this weekend.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Very worried...

Having bought an iPhone 3G today (I dropped the last on a cobbled street - and to be honest I was seriously impressed that the touchscreen still worked) I was interested to see how lilies actually get gilded.

First impressions (and I'll be brief as this has been written about ad nauseam) are that the slippery plastic is actually quite nice - slips into the pocket more easily, seems lighter (I'm not sure if it actually is) and is yet sturdy in the hand.

So, pick to the fore, SIM out of the old, SIM into the new, sync with iTunes. Boot and...

1 bar on the phone. Now, the old phone was giving me 5 as it sat next to my computer. Wave it around a bit. Still 1 bar.

Read some of the (few) posts that I had not previously browsed about the new iPhone... terrible 3G performance, particularly in the UK.

Turn 3G off.

5 bars.

3G on.

1 bar.

Long-running test (5 hours and going) - max reception approached: 3 bars, somewhere near Eight Over Eight on the Kings Road on my cycle home.





Please tell me it's O2's fault as then I just have to wait for new or upgraded cell towers. If it is a hardware issue in the new iPhone then I am very, very disappointed.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

The party doesn't seem so bad once you've left

As with many things, life has a rosier outlook after the event is over and so it is with MobileMe. I say this because MobileMe is now pushing my contacts and calendars from Mac (after 15 mins or manual command from the sync menu) and backwards and forwards between iPhone etc.

Now that I have got over the whole disappointment with the address for push mail I am back to my two Google accounts (Google Apps with my corporate domain and regular Gmail) and I have sync'd my MobileMe but turned off the Mail functionality in the iPhone System prefs so it just does my calendars and contacts. Interestingly the very fact that you can individually select which parts of the MobileMe platform to use (Mail, calendars or contacts) suggests perhaps that they knew that it was going to be used for other mail accounts.

And with a combination of Spanning Sync on my Mac sending my multiple Gmail calendars to iCal and backwards I actually get a pretty good Gmail to iPhone sync albeit with the caveat that I have to at least open my computer to get Spanning Sync to activate and do the last leg.

Anyway, this is a lot more convoluted than I had hoped and it isn't "Exchange for the rest of us" as SJ suggested and so I am on the hunt for new and better methods.

So, an old fashioned doff of the cap to the quiet talent of the man who brought you Hardware Growler (still one of the only 5 or 6 apps bundled with every download of the great growl platform) and the flashes of wit and insight on his blog at - the great Diggory. He led me to Nueva and its Exchange solution to push mail, calendars and contacts from Gmail. The article he put me onto is here, care of Beau Giles.

Thanks all. Any other workarounds appreciated.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008


MobileMe, beyond having a bad name, is proving to be a cussed & ugly child. It laid claim to Microsoft Exchange's slice of cake at the push-info birthday party (and let's face it MExch is no little orphan Annie - she throws some spectacular hissy fits but she remains the teen-queen in this particular realm) but has so far vomited on arrival, refused to let any of the children play with his toys and been a pain in the arse.

What staggers me is that .mac was always the slightly slow child, who was a bit plain and really didn't make an impact but then Mac-fanboys did love him a little so he never got the boot. 

But MobileMe was sent to replace him, the sexy younger brother shows what those genes could really do... and it was bad.

I have had a contact in my address book for the last three days and have been waiting for it to push to the cloud (all settings, Mac,, iPhone all correct) and has it pushed, puffed even suggested it might move? Has it hell.

On top of the whole push-email fiasco (you mean only addresses push - the rest of your domains go hang?) I am seriously underwhelmed.

This is one big lost-opportunity for the Cupertino team... or are all of our contacts, emails, calendars stuck in the Infinite Loop. Let's leave this party.

Saturday, 5 July 2008


I take a lot of screenshots for various reasons but have always been too pikey to pay for a proper screenshot app like SnapzPro, preferring instead the usual Apple-Shift-4 routine.

But I am often disappointed by the low quality results as they system is converting them to jpg at 60%. 

I realise that with the likes of TinkerTool and Cocktail you could change the screenshot file format and I have found another simple way here.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Apologies for the delay - and somewhat uncharacteristically

Care of Marbury, and interestingly, by Marbury (aka Ian Leslie) - this is well put:

Saturday, 14 June 2008


Every home, I mean every single home should have one of these. ;-)

Friday, 25 April 2008

"Self-important fucknozzle" - bang to rights

A three-word, tongue-in-cheek definition of minor bloggers like myself - and wonderful in its brevity and linguistic class.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Microsoft for Mac 2008 - it's getting hot in here

By which I mean that I can more quickly determine the infinitesimal effects of global warming on the hairs of my arms than I can tell that Excel 2008 is launching.

Why, oh why does a native Intel app that has been four years in the writing have to take such an epically long time to launch?

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Yikes - Microsoft coming at ya

Imagine that you are well-healed man or woman, a person who is a leader in their industry, globally influential in your space. Essentially you are a guy who lives in the best neighbourhood, drives a pretty smart car (unless you reverse the snobbery and are rolling with a Prius) and is generally quite used to a bit of respect, even maybe some ass-kissery.

In short, imagine you are one of these guys, the Yahoo! Board of Directors.

And then you get this letter from S Ballmer Esq.

Now you feel like a kid at school again, right? That's quite a self-righteous, I'm-not-angry-just-disappointed tone he's got there. Wouldn't make me any more willing to help my company get sucked into the maw of the big M.

(Due respect to JG@DF for the discovery of the letter.)

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

How to do it - HDR imagery

Jetty, originally uploaded by Huey_J.

Just check out this staggeringly good HDR (high dynamic range) image which recently won the TWIP photo contest for HDR shots.

For those who haven't yet tried HDR takes the information from a range of exposures of the same subject and then, through tonal mapping, puts the info from the darkest darks and lightest lights and merges it all into one image that shows details from shadows right through to highlights in a way that would overwhelm a single exposure.

Wonderful modern-day photographic trickery (in the most honest sense of the word).

Friday, 28 March 2008

Why oh why (the dot mac lament)

I have tried so many online backup/file sync systems that I am beginning to go mad (Amazon S3, Memeo, Mozy, FolderSync, .mac locally sync'd, .mac updated via Transmit) and NONE of them do the simple task of sweeping an update sync of my desktop and other crucial work folders onto the internet at regular intervals.

The bit that is really frustrating is that I pay for .Mac (including with increased storage) and it should be the simple solution - integrated with my Mac and fully automator-friendly etc. But it is soooooooooo slow. The local cache of .mac is totally useless as it simply fails to update after the first day or so. The Transmit sync is great in principle but it takes about 25 minutes to simply interrogate the two folders for changes before even getting to the upload.

And I know that this really bothers others (the venerable Merlin Mann, for instance) and it seems to be such a massive, crushing oversight on Apple's part.

Are we to see .mac rescued from this crapulatory state like Aperture and Apple TV were with their 2.0 versions?

Please Mr Steve. Oh, and in the meantime I have high, high, high hopes for DropBox.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Shall I admit defeat and put the Westminster car pound telephone number into my address book?

Towed again for having the wrong permit showing. Ugh.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Apple TV - issues with the real experience

I have been an owner of the Apple TV when it was a 1.0 twinkle in Steve's eye - and I enjoyed it although it was over-priced and under capacity. But, with 2.0 (Take 2 - sweet!) I was really excited.

Being one her Majesty's subjects based in the UK (not, as they quaintly say in some UK territories, 'residing at her Majesty's pleasure' i.e. in prison) I could not get onto the US iTunes store for movie rentals.

Until I discovered the neat workaround of buying US denominated gift vouchers ($200 available for immediate redemption at internet sites) which will allow anyone, anywhere to create a US iTunes account and get watching.

All so very groovy. EXCEPT...

Problem 1) my hitherto heroically excellent ISP in the UK, Zen Internet, starts coughing blood when my monthly downloads reach 20GB (back when I started with them there wasn't a limit, of course) and so my few episodes of Mad Men & Damages soon busted my limits. The last thing I expected to be a problem was this paltry download limit - and I'm not even using the pernicious, sneaky and downright underhand SLA's of the budget, mass-market ISP's like Sky, BT or Orange.

So - problem 1 in brief is that ordinary, high quality broadband packages from award winning UK ISP's are not ready for legal on-demand download TV services.

Problem 2) stemming fairly heavily from the above - I upgrade my broadband package to a pro (semi-business) offering from Zen in order to boost my download limit to 50Gb per month and find that I still can't get through a whole Live Fast Die Hard in HD as the download stalls out at 59% - even though I am still fully online now and able to write this post my Apple TV has been given an early bath for reasons I cannot fathom. Have Zen's servers shut that stream down? Is the Apple TV on the fritz? What has happened?

All I know is that I work in this world - I sell these products - an ordinary user would be very disappointed.

Apple TV 2.0 in the UK - our deliverer has been taken out at the last fence. "The quarterback is toast".

Monday, 10 March 2008

I.E. it's over

Interesting take on why Microsoft has u-turned on its IE8 standards compatibility - and I so hope it's true so banking websites, cinema booking sites and even pizza delivery companies start coding things that work rather than things that don't work just to fit in with Redmond's way of doing things.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Can anyone tell me how a company like Viatel gets to charge £270 per month ex VAT for 2MB SDSL with 10:1 contention?

Is that really the going rate?
Lock you mac screen with ease by keeping (from the Applications>Utilities folder) in the menubar (under Keychain>Preferences>General). Then click on the little padlock icon and voila!

Simple yet effective

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Google blog widget - excellent little device! Probably very late in the game on this but there we are.

One less good thing is that I changed my Google account the other day and I can find no way of making the Blog (or Analytics) accounts change with it. Any hints?

Monday, 18 February 2008

Apple Computer Inc - using my house as a promotional tool without permission!

I was in the Apple Store in Regent's Street and was getting my first hands-on time with the MacBook Air and I was wowed by the size (really very small), the weight (super slim) and the overall quality - and I thought I'd try out the funky gestures in iPhoto. So I open it up and obviously it comes pre-loaded with some Events for people to browse through and amongst them is Tropical Beach House - and, this is where it gets a little odd, about 8 of these glossy, people-having-fun-and-larking-around marketing type shots (you know the sort of things that make up the images in the iLife templates) were taken at a rental villa that I own in the Caribbean. The place is completely uncredited but here are a group of young people sipping beer by the pool, snapping the sunset from the dock, laughing on the terrace etc etc!

You can see the whole lot of shots, and the shots I took of the same images on iPhoto on machines throughout the Apple Store (2 MacBook Airs, 1 Black MacBook, 1 Mac Pro) here:

Apple Store shots of Gun Point, Tortola

And the main website here for comparison purposes: Gun Point

The house looks great which I am thrilled about (as it would in Apple ad-world) but surely this is tantamount to marketing, and shouldn't Apple maybe have contacted me to say that it was using them? The guests did come and pay normal rates for the week but there was no suggestion that they were anything other than holidaying types.

What do you guys think?

Friday, 1 February 2008


I had one of those moments when I take a leap into the unknown when buying software and I [knowingly] plink down my credit card details without having really done my research. But usually $15 shareware mistakes don't break the bank. But what I actually bought was Apple's supposedly pro-photography app Aperture.

I am something of a Mac fan-boy but mainly because they make great products. But can someone please tell me why Aperture is wowing anyone? For filing purposes it seems to be little more than iView Media Pro (although now that has been bought by M$haft so it's not much of an option). But it has some decent photo-tweaking tools but then it's a little like getting 55% of the way into a job and then realising that actually you are going to have to change your whole methodology and start with new tools. Which would be fine if there was a clear distinction where the alternative tool also required the use of a specialist filing app before hand... but it doesn't. It's called Lightroom and then Photoshop.

I realise this is hardly a well thought-out, insightful rant (see Daring Fireball for those) but it remains that I am v frustrated with Apple and hoping for a lot from the soon-to-be-announced update.

(Oh, and I spent a weekend creating an in-depth photo album in Aperture and something happened and I lost the lot - not, happily, before I ordered it online but shortly afterwards. And then the results were poor, saturation-light, dull images on poor quality paper. The "special-sauce" that Apple puts into Albums made with iPhoto obviously helps but I felt a bit let down.)

Friday, 25 January 2008

Digital SLR's

I must make a confession - much of this blog is prompted or wholesale driven by the pithy content on John Gruber's renowned Daring Fireball blog - so if you find this too windy, boring etc just read that instead as it is the business.

Anyway, on the back of this John linked to this article on Digital SLR's. I get asked about digital cameras a lot and I always shy away from recommending digital SLR's on the basis that most people who need to ask what camera to buy will not want the extra weight, flexibility/complexity etc of the SLR format. However, this is not always the case and this article is a great way of pointing the interested party to a place to make their own decision. In short they are wonderful and I really wouldn't want to go back to any other camera but then I suppose I am a fully paid-up fan and have been for a while.

Given that we are on this subject there is always the question of Canon vs Nikon which is well covered here. I seem to see a lot of Canons on the touchlines of sporting events (more than Nikons, anyway) and also in the hands of the paps but then a lot of the pro & pro-am photo blogs seem to be populated by Nikon users so maybe there is something in the artistry of the Nikon and the 'get the job done' nature of the Canon.

Not that it will affect my very basic photography as I have much learning still to do. Current rig, for illustration, is a Canon EOS 5D (packing the full 35mm sensor) with Canon 50mm f1.4 prime - all they say about this lens is true - and a very nifty Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L USM lens, and a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM which rocks the telephoto jobs. Not too heavy, quite flexible.

Recent purchases include the SanDisk Extreme Firewire Reader which can transfer images at FW800 speeds - quite useful when the 5D's full sensor RAW images are 12MB or so.

Monday, 21 January 2008

iTunes Movie Rentals in Europe & UK

It was always going to be a question of how long it would be until Apple could get the rental store rollin' for us Euros but this post from Engadget suggests that it will be as difficult as we feared...

On the positive side I was heartened to see Jobs announce all the major studios on board in the US which suggests his negotiating powers are strong (or he has learnt to give a little more to the other side) and so maybe his mojo can work wonders over here. And also I like the sound of Viviane Reding (who seems to be a man in the Engadget story) as we surely need a consumer rights battle-axe to strip some of the excess margin from our digital lives over here.

Anyhoo - here's hoping for an 'upside surprise' (as they say on conference calls) on timing.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Open letter to Ashley Highfield, BBC Director of Future Media & Technology

In this post Mr Highfield suggests that he may launch BBC's iPlayer on the newly updated Apple TV. Given my experience of customer's desires for easy-to-use replay facilities for mainstream TV I had to jump in and give him full support. Therefore the following letter:

Dear Mr Highfield,

As someone who installs and maintains household technology (with an emphasis on the convergence of the traditional visual formats like TV, Video & DVD with digital music, photos and movies) this is a HUGELY encouraging post.

My clients are crying out for a simple way to interface with the forms of high quality content on the web. Apple's 10-foot interface for the AppleTV was always excellent but it was let down, as everyone knows, by limited content and the hoops needed to get that content onto the device. With the iTunes movie rental store the filmic side of the issues disappears.

If Mr Highfield can bring BBC's (truly excellent) iPlayer to the Apple TV then we will have the highest quality broadcaster on British TV front and centre.

I believe my clients (ABC1's across the southern UK) are representative of a large proportion of BBC stakeholders and I can guarantee that this move would be widely praised.

Please do it, Mr Highfield.

Yours sincerely,

Will Brocklebank

So - join the throng and post a comment in support if you believe in this!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Apple's Time Capsule announcement

Time Capsule is no doubt a great addition for the ease-of-use brigade but there are two small philosophical difficulties for the home network:

1. If the internal drive (up to 1TB) is used solely for Time Machine backups then it is not a NAS. From the forum responses on Time Capsule it seems many people are interested in using this as a NAS device. Can it be partitioned to allow for a NAS volume and still maintaining room for the Time Machine backups?

2. If it is used as a NAS (either in its entirety or a partition of it) then isn't it a little bit of a concern that in effect Apple are encouraging people to store vital household files centrally on a single disk with no RAID protection? It will be a significant single point of failure which could potentially wipe out a household's crucial files.

I am not suggesting that Apple should have offered RAID in the device as that would have increased cost and caused design issues but maybe they could solve these problems by allowing the external USB slot to be used for adding a second USB HD in the same manner as the original AirDisk was planned and have this as a RAID drive to protect the internal HD or, if people aren't fussed about RAID, optionally turning it into more storage in JBOD fashion.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Home from the holidays - posts coming tomorrow

Hi all - (I write this knowing that no one is really going to read it but you can't let the reality grind away at your optimism)

I am back from my holiday with some fairly groovy new photos and some thoughts which I'll publish tomorrow. In the meantime I'm off to bed as my car tells me that in two weeks I have driven 923 miles, over 18 hours at an average speed of 57 mph, fuel consumption 26.9 mpg (down from a usual 35 mpg because of the bloody roof box that was needed for baby clobber on our multi centre holiday). Did the last 4 hours and 20 minutes this evening on the way back from Cornwall and seriously need a rest.

A bientot, and happy New Year.