iTunes Match Update

Just a quick update to my last post on iTunes Match. Since the post Apple have updated their iTunes Match page in America to include a FAQ and video which helps clarify exactly what iTunes Match is and how it works differently for desktops and mobiles for streaming.

Does iTunes Match stream or download songs?
On a computer, any songs stored in iCloud will stream over the air when played, though you can download them at any time by clicking the iCloud download button. iOS devices will start playing tracks from iCloud as they download and will store them so that you can listen to them later even if you don’t have a network connection. Apple TV only streams songs.

So I fired up the Mac Mini and signed into my account – low and behold my library is available from the Mini rather than pointing to my shared library on the iMac – see screen below.

Click on a track and it is streamed after a couple of seconds. It’s not as slick or fast as Spotify but it’s not a million miles away either. When I click on next to play the next track there is a couple of seconds delay while it requests and starts the stream. The same is true for playlists (which are also synced across devices) but interestingly if you let the track finish and move onto next track it is instantaneous. So it looks like it does some pre-loading of the assumed next track in certain scenarios. Like the FAQ states, this doesn’t download the track – just streams. Clicking on the cloud icon downloads the track to the Mini. Nice.

iTunes Match

iTunes in the Cloud has been with us for a few months now. New and existing purchases available in iTunes and also on your iOS devices via the cloud. If you’ve bought most of your music from Apple then your pretty much sorted but what if the vast majority of your music has been bought elsewhere? What about the ripped cd’s and, lets be honest, the music acquired via torrents, sharing groups etc over the years? Thats where iTunes Match comes in. Launched last month in America it was rumoured by some analysts as being well into 2012 for the UK but last Friday after a premature launch the previous day, Match was available for users in the UK.

What is iTunes Match?
iTunes Match is a subscription service from Apple. It costs £21.99 a year ($24.99 in the US but I should educate myself rather than grumble about UK pricing) and once you’ve signed up it will automatically review each year unless you decide to cancel it. Once subscribed your whole music collection is matched and made available online. iTunes analyses your music and those tracks that are already available on the iTunes store but weren’t originally bought from iTunes are called ‘Matched’. The matched tracks are then made available on your iOS devices for download just like iTunes in the Cloud has already done for your iTunes purchases.

All users will still have a percentage of music that is unmatched – not purchased on iTunes and the Match service couldn’t find the same track on the iTunes store. For those tracks Match will upload them to your iCloud account and make those available to your iOS devices (and other computers with iTunes and the same authorised account). The main limitation with iTunes Match is that it will upload a maximum of 25,000 tracks. Thats quite a large music collection and only applies to uploaded tracks excluding those purchased and matched. However Apple have assumed the worst case scenario in that if your music collection is over 25,000 tracks in size then iTunes Match will fail to run. The workaround is to temporarily reduce your library to less than 25,000, subscribe to Match and let it do it’s stuff and once it’s complete, assuming it has uploaded less than 25,000, add the rest of your library. A bit of hassle but it’s pretty easy to do. Another restriction is that Match will only work on tracks at a higher bitrate than 96Kbps but I only have a couple of spoken tracks at that quality from a library of over 11,000 so it’s not a problematic restriction.

So Match put’s all your music in the cloud but the main benefit for me is that the matched tracks are available at 256Kbps AAC DRM-free quality no matter what the bitrate is of your original track. Wow. The second main benefit is not only are the matched tracks of better quality, but they are properly licensed music no matter what the original source was – ripped, torrents, Napster…Limewire even. Double wow.

I’m sure thats why this is a paid service – the online storage that Match requires but also the licensing of the music. One question I had was what happens if I don’t re-subscribe? Do I lose the matched music? The answer is no – you only lose the iCloud storage and the ability to download your library on any of your devices.

Using iTunes Match
The first step for me was to backup my iTunes library. I was unsure as to what if any damage would be done to my library and I didn’t want to lose tracks, album art or metadata in the process. With that out of the way I signed up for iTunes Match on Friday morning. It was quick and easy to do and after a couple of minutes iTunes Match started to analyse my library. Once that was complete (5-10 mins) it then started matching with the 20 million tracks available on iTunes. I expected this to take hours but was pretty speedy. I’m not sure what Match uses to ensure it finds the right track but think it must be a combination of tags, track length and estimated sizes. Scratch that – it is using Gracenote’s MusicID service according to this Cult of Mac post.

Once the match process was done, 6381 tracks out of 11143 were available in iCloud. The nest step was to seed the remaining tracks – all 4876 of them. That was around 11GB of data that was uploaded to iCloud and it took a few hours.

Interestingly the upload never seemed to complete. There was no network traffic but iTunes Match was still trying to upload…something. I think the service got stressed on that first Friday and that’s what I was seeing. I also saw a couple of tweets saying the service had been suspended. 24 hours later and when I relaunched iTunes the Match service spent some time and this time it finally completed. I’m not sure how long this took but I eventually had all of my tracks available in iCloud. Great. Now what?

First test was how Match works on iOS. I grabbed my iPad and enabled iTunes Match and got a message that my music library on this device would be replaced. From other podcasts and forums I’d seen, this meant the iPad music would be wiped and I’d start again.

However the music that had been sync’d to the iPad remained in place and eventually (20 mins or so) my whole library was displayed with cloud icons next to those tracks that were available to download. Playlists are also sync’d via iCloud and you can make changes to the playlists from any device and those changes will be saved across all devices. After some digging, this excellent article from Macworld explains the replacing/supplementing issue – If your iOS device was synced to a music library you’ve connected to iTunes Match, it will only supplement your currently synced content, leaving already-synced songs alone and adding iCloud download icons for those that haven’t been added to your device. If it’s synced with music not in your iTunes Match collection, however, all of that will be replaced.

Download speed over wifi is great, 3G – mileage will vary as expected. The tracks will start playing before they are fully downloaded. It’s not streaming, but pretty close. If I’m honest though, how often am I going to want to download tracks when I’m away from my Mac? I can see it happening the odd time but thats about it.

Upgrading tracks
With Match up and running the next job was to replace my old crummy tracks with spiffy good quality 256Kbps AAC versions. I created the following playlist (hat tip Macworld) which highlighted the tracks available to download that were of better quality than I currently had.

Many of my tracks were ripped from CD and I stuck at 192Kbps at the time. I also had quite a few albums acquired form less honest sources that were of low quality. I selected a couple of test albums, held down the option key and clicked delete. I sent the albums to trash but kept them on iCloud. I setup a second playlist that showed music on iCloud and not on local machine, selected both albums and clicked Download. Thirty seconds later I had two albums refreshed at a higher quality but most importantly my ratings and played count were retained from the old files. With that test concluded, and safe in the knowledge I had backed up everything, I selected all files of a lower quality, deleted them and then kicked off the download.

I them went out for the morning.

On my return iTunes had finished – 6548 tracks downloaded which is just over 53GB in total. Boom.

Is it worth it?
So thats iTunes Match. If I’m being harsh it’s the new form of Apple tax – replacing the yearly subscription that was MobileMe with iTunes Match. However it’s a service that delivers an upgrade to the quality of your music, gives you legitimate copies of your music irrespective of source (when it was announced in June 2011 I couldn’t believe it was the case) and allows you to download your music from anywhere in the world without leaving your machine running at home…or needing to carry it all with you.

One final benefit is that your music collection is backed up to the cloud. In event of a hard drive loss you can download your full music library to an existing or brand new machine. Compared to the Amazon S3 costs, that alone is worth £21 a year for me.

For me it’s highly recommended – just make sure you’ve taken a backup before proceeding just in case.

Ben Chonzie

It’s been over three months since my last hill walk, due to a variety of reasons mostly involving the pish weather we’ve been having recently. So I was sitting with Danny on Friday moaning about our lack of walks and mentioned it was to be nice this weekend. We both had some muscle pains though. A quick Google search for the easiest munro turned up Ben Chonzie – 12 hours later and I’d ticked off another munro. Result!

Ian on Ben Chonzie

Ben Chonzie is easy for a few reasons. Firstly, you start from around 200m unlike the many that start form sea level. Secondly for 2/4 of the route you follow a land rover track which isn’t too steep. Once you come of the track and get near the summit there is a fence post that you can follow to take you to the summit. Overall it’s an undemanding walk but we struck it lucky with the weather and it was a great day considering the cold start.

Ben Chonzie

Great views all around but sitting at the top for some lunch was pretty chilly and I was glad of the hat and gloves. If someone is keen to try walking, pretty fit and wants to do a munro then Ben Chonzie is a good choice, but with the warning that this is a lot easier than other munro’s that I’ve done. It’s also a good winter hill as the fence posts at the top and wide track on the way up help with navigation in the snow.

Ben Chonzie - Runkeeper

The full set of pics (not many) is available on Flickr. One final thing. Me and Danny can easily talk all day about a variety of different topics, funnily enough we always agree that we’re experts in these topics 🙂 One that we stumbled on was McEwan’s Lager and this advert. Enjoy.

iPhone 4S

The new iPhone 4S is quite wonderful. It’s fast, the camera really is a step up over the iPhone 4 and Siri does indeed understand Glaswegian….mostly. It’s just a shame that Apple hadn’t mentioned before launch day that Siri in the UK wouldn’t support map or local business searching. No deals have yet been completed for the UK market although they expect it to be available in 2012.

I even (still) like the design of the iPhone. In many ways it just works for me. It’s slender, easy to hold and still looks great when compared to the many many smartphones that have launched in the last 16 month since the iPhone 4 came out. Coupled with the improved antenna design and being a truly world phone, it makes the iPhone 4S a bit of a no brainer.

Yes, I won’t be buying an iPhone 4S.

Now I said as much on the podcast last week, and until last Tuesday I was pretty much sticking to my guns. However I had a wobble and went out for a 4S on Friday afternoon thinking there would be plenty stock. That can only be described as a tactical mistake. The Apple stores had no stock and while O2 and Carphone Warehouse had plenty of iPhones, I didn’t want to commit to a contract or locked phone.

I didn’t order from Apple that night and in the cold light of a grey Glasgow Saturday I decided to stick with the iPhone 4. While the camera is a lot better, I don’t use it half as much as I expected. The speed would also be nice but in trying it in the Apple store it wasn’t that much faster, not to the same extent the iPad 2 was faster than the original iPad. Siri looks fantastic though and I would like to try it for real instead of in a store environment, but I have a niggle that without API support I’d be a bit miffed at only using it to interact with Apple’s official app’s. My twitter stream is also flooded with the great examples of what Siri can do…and there’s always Shit That Siri Says.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the 4S is a good upgrade from 4, but with other priorities right now and an iPhone 4 that is in perfect working order it makes sense to give this one a pass.

I must be getting old.

Steve Jobs

Despite the failing health, despite everyone knowing it was coming, it was still with shock and much sadness that Steve Jobs passed away today. Some amazing tributes online today from Google, Wired, Panic and Apple themselves. Stories from tech reporters, developers, CEO’s, competitors and the impact can be seen by how ordinary people, not just the geeks, are aware of who he was and feel a certain sadness. My favourite read was from Walt Mossberg – The Steve Jobs I Knew. RIP Steve.

Wither Safari?

Over the years I’ve moved between various browsers. Since moving to the Mac I mostly used Safari but towards the end of 2010 I made the switch to Chrome. It was fast, stable and had great extension support. But mostly it was fast. Safari had become really bogged down in day to day use. I partly blamed the browser and the hardware. Moving to a new machine meant a chance to try Safari again. Certainly performance was better but despite having lot’s of cores and 16GB of Ram at it’s disposal, Safari still felt sluggish from time to time or worse, would crash.

What was odd though was the lac of others reporting the same issues. Certainly I was using Saft with Safari to try and make it more usable but removing that on the old machine and not installing it at all on the new one meant that was eliminated. I’d installed flash blockers, removed Flash from my Mac and that didn’t help much either. Over the last few days though there’s been a few prominent Mac users expressing problems with Safari. Tim Bray discussed Safari’s re-architecture and how he expected that to be the root cause of Safari’s problems coupled with the heavyweight websites that we now know and love. John Gruber agreed with Bray and Marco Arment commented on seeing the same pattern, but putting it down to Safari 5.1 and not a Safari problem in general.

With Firefox 7 released this week (I do wish they stop with the version number games – almost 4 years covers versions 2-4 which came out in March 2011…and we’re now on 7. I blame Google.) I decided to do some of my own tests. Every browser release prompt’s speed tests, rendering tests etc and many many graphs, but does that reflect reality on my Mac? So I setup each of the browsers to be as similar as possible. Same amount of tabs looking at the same websites, same number pinned, as close to similar extensions on each browser too and compared Safari 5.1, Firefox 7 and Chrome 14.0.835.186. I rebooted the Mac and then opened each browser five times recording the time it takes to launch the app and refresh each of the tabs. Timings and thoughts on each of the browsers are below and for reference, the sites and extensions used are mentioned below.

The first 7 links are usually pinned in Chrome, the rest were the sites I was using when I did the test’s.
Google Docs
Google Docs Shownotes
The Big List of Video Game Documentaries
Tim Bray
Daring Fireball
PC Gamer

The following are the extensions I use day to day in Chrome. I tried to match them in Firefox and Safari but ultimately Chrome had the most extensions enabled as a couple didn’t exist for the other browsers.

Adblock Plus
Clip to Evernote
Minecraft Wiki Searcher
Page One
Youtube Options for Google Chrome

The default browsers for Mac is Safari. It always felt fast and snappy but was short on features compared with the other browsers on the market.

The look and feel of the browser has fell behind others, particularly Chrome. I miss not being able to pin tabs and also just see the favicons rather than the long tab names you see in Safari – just not as usable. Speeds have also deteriorated with each version. For my tests, the speeds are below.

There’s quite a few tabs being refreshed so the time isn’t too bad, but even in general usage Safari feels sluggish. Moving between tabs and refreshing an individual page all feels slower than it should be.

In it’s favour though, Safari is light on CPU and Memory usage but on my older machine I still preferred Chrome to Safari with less resources.

Currently in third place in browser share behind IE and Firefox, Chrome is my default browser on the Mac and PC.

I like the ability to pin tabs and find the interface far more visually appealing than Safari or Firefox. It’s also fast and stable but while the browser itself never seems to crash, I am seeing more of the sad tab on certain sites, particularly Google+.

Performance is Chrome’s strong point alongside a fantastic amount of extensions. Even though it has the most extensions installed in this test it out performed the other two browsers by quite a margin.

Chrome might be fast but it uses a lot more Memory and CPU. In practice it’s not something I notice but your milage may vary.

Good old Firefox. Replaced IE when I was on Windows and helped break the mould on a variety of browser UI and functionality features.

On Mac’s however I’ve found Firefox to be quite crashy and slow. It suffered from feature creep as it’s popularity grew and with popularity came the race to add more which took it’s toll on the UI and overall performance. Firefox 7 doesn’t look too bad, although it’s almost a clone of Chrome now and still doesn’t look as clean.

Newer versions have improved performance but for me it’s still a lot slower than Chrome as the above results show.

While Memory usage is low in comparison to Chrome, CPU usage was quite high.

So after comparing the three what are my conclusions? Chrome is still the faster browser followed by Firefox and Safari, and this can be summed up in the following charts.

Chrome is faster not just in start up but on general usage as well. Coupled with the cleaner UI it will still remain as my default browser. Firefox has made some improvements over the last few months and seems to be more stable coupled with improvements in performance. Safari on the other hand has worsened over the last year. I’m hoping that Apples focus on Lion and iOS 5 is the cause and that Safari will receive some much needed TLC. It reminds me of how IE felt in Windows – usable but far better alternatives available.

With such a reliance on the web for both desktop and mobile computing the browser competition is hotter than ever. If you’ve not tried Google Chrome it’s well worth downloading and giving it a spin. Competitors have improved to try and catch up but with Chrome’s aggressive development it’s hard to ignore. What will the next couple of years bring to the browser – Amazon Silk for the desktop?

Thoughts on Lion

Mac OS X Lion was released on July 20th 2011 so my write up is after a few weeks of use rather than a few days (although many were based on using the beta releases that developers have access too). It’s also on the back of a couple of great posts in a similar vein, Elaine Giles Lion – One Month On and Craig Grannell’s My review of OS X Lion: the good, the bad and the ugly. Both posts highlighted the good and bad to be found in Lion and this post will be in a similar vein. It’s now over 5 years since I switched to Mac and the iMac I purchased had OS X Tiger installed. Since then we’ve seen Leopard and Snow Leopard released and the iMac coped well with the updates. However I bought a new iMac this year and as it’s a good spec it’s hard to say if the Lion upgrade has made any difference to performance. Certainly when I moved to Leopard and Snow Leopard there was an initial feeling of slightly better performance but my gut feel is that with Lion the opposite is true. Indeed on my Mac Mini which acts as a media server (basically running Plex and that’s it) I’ve added a couple of GB of ram (it’s so cheap it was rude not to) and it certainly has benefited with some more breathing space.

The launch of Lion was different in that it was available only (initially) via the App Store. While all well and good for those on fast connections, for others it was a slow download especially on day one. Not only that, if you didn’t take action before installing then you wouldn’t be able to make a backup disc or save to a USB stick for future use. As I wanted to restart fresh on the Mac Mini a few weeks after installing it certainly has saved me a lot of hassle – hopefully Apple learn for future upgrades and provide an easy option during install to create a rescue disc or stick.

Install was fast though and after a reboot I was using Lion. So whats new? What did I like and dislike? How much is iOS influencing OS X?

One of the most used app’s on my Mac is Mail and Lion brings some good improvements. A conversation view similar to the iPad’s makes for a cleaner view of multiple replies. A favourites bar allows you to create shortcuts to different mail accounts which is great if you have many accounts and want quick access to an account or smart mailbox. The bar also supports keyboard shortcuts – here’s a great tip from Matt Gemmell on using the favourites bar. One snag – my mail rules run inconsistently which is a pain. I’ve not looked into it much apart from confirming on the Apple forums that it’s a fairly common problem so hopefully an update will address.

One of the features I loved in OS X was Exposé. I move the mouse to one of the desktop corners and I’d get a quick overview of all open applications that I could easily switch to. Mission Control expands on that feature to include Spaces and also helps knit a couple of other new features together – Gestures and Full Screen applications. The screenshot above is Mission Control showing a typical day on my Mac. Desktop 1 is my main workspace, Desktop 2 is Lightroom full screen and Desktop 3 is Windows 7 (via VMware Fusion) again running full screen. Mission Control now groups windows from the same app together, so if you’ve a few mails open or a few Chrome sessions it’s easy to identify and swap between them.

Spaces is now integrated into Mission Control so to create a new Desktop, enable Mission Control and drag an app to the top strip to either move the app to an existing Desktop or to create a new Desktop. You can also create a new Desktop by moving your cursor to the top right of the screen within Mission Control. New to spaces – you can now default an app to a certain Desktop. Desktop’s also get their own background but I wish you could rename your Desktop. Not essential but I’d rather see Lightroom or Windows instead of Desktop 2 or Desktop 3.

Overall, I love Mission Control. I’m using Spaces far more effectively and it makes it easy to control your app’s and desktop’s. Shifting an app onto a separate Desktop (or making it full screen) gives you instant focus away from the distractions of e-mail, Twitter and IM. On a 27″ iMac the Full Screen mode feels….overkill. Firstly an application needs to support it and if it does you get a small icon on the right of the app’s toolbar. One click and the app moves to Full Screen, hiding the toolbar and Dock filling the screen fully. For certain app’s it makes sense but for others it’s just too much on the big screen.

On a laptop however, Full Screen makes perfect sense especially on a Macbook Air. Coupled with a three finger swipe to move between Desktop’s and you have a great way of running app’s and switching quickly between them.

Mission Control also meant the return of the Dashboard. I’d disabled it a long time ago as it was unused and felt like a waste of resources. It now gets pride of place in the top row alongside other Spaces and a three swipe to the right from Desktop 1 shows the Dashboard. Mmmmm. I could understand this if there were lot’s of great widgets available but the Dashboard has been stagnating for some time. Look at Apple’s own website and the last new widget was published in Feb 2011. If the Dashboard was important surely you could download and install widgets via the App Store? Thankfully it can still be disabled in Mission Controls preference pane.

I’d mentioned Gestures and Lion really has pushed their use throughout the operating system, so much so that if you have a desktop Mac I’d almost say a Magic Trackpad is essential. When I bought the new iMac instead of a mouse I ordered the trackpad and use it, the keyboard and my Logitech mouse to control Lion. Easy to switch between Desktops, enable Mission Control, show the desktop – love it. Just a shame that the trackpad costs £60.

Lion brings some practical improvements that as a whole make for a faster and more secure environment. Resume if supported by an app will launch your applications exactly the same way you left them after a reboot. Sounds simple but makes such a big difference to close an app and when you open it again the toolbars are in the same place and the document you were working on is still open at the same point where you were making changes. Auto Save has been added – you never have to worry about saving again as Lion will auto save your changes as you work. This should hopefully be the end of forgetting to save or losing work if your Mac crashes. Yes, Mac’s crash as I’ll explain later! Coupled with these feature’s is Versions. Click on the title bar of an app and you can browse all versions of the current document. If you select browse you are taken to the familiar Time Machine interface and you browse through the different versions of the dock. You can see changes and easily restore to a previous version. A bit over the top, but then they are making backup and versioning interesting via the animation.

The animations aren’t restricted to just Versions. Throughout Lion you see animations especially in Finder in Mail that on first or second run are fine….the 50th time you see it starts to grate though and frankly gets in the way. One way to disable these is to download Lion Tweaks. This free tool lets you tweak some of Lion’s features – some more annoying than others. Anyway, this is the Likes of Lion so let’s crack on.

Finder has seen some small upgrades. All My Files groups your files from anywhere on your drives and displays them in the one Finder window allowing you to sort by date, name, application. A small step in making the Finder easier to understand and use. You can now navigate files using gestures and sort tokens have been added to make for a far stronger search. What’s probably the most noticeable change is the colour changes made to the sidebar. More accurately the removal of colour. I like it but many don’t but it should be no surprise as iTunes made the same change recently and the trend is continuing. The latest Evernote update moved to monochrome as did Google Docs. Nice.

Thats the end of the lovefest though. There are a couple of jarring features in Lion. One of the most annoying is the UI changes to iCal and Address Book. iCal has a couple of nice feature changes but it’s the UI that I find really distracting.

In total contrast to the move to monochrome, iCal now has a faux leather toolbar and a tear off graphic added underneath. The toolbar is ugly. The tear off meaningless – with a gesture can I tear off a page in the calendar? Of course not. It just stands out like a sore thumb…or it would do it if wasn’t for Address Book.

At least iCal has improved it’s functional use with year view and a decent day view. Address Book looks ugly and is more difficult to use than it’s Snow Leopard predecessor. It’s been made to look like a real book…but doesn’t act like one either using the mouse or via gestures. It’s got a horrible graphic at the top acting as a marker…which does nothing. I don’t even think it’s syncing has improved to Google/Yahoo. Disappointing.

Another annoyance is a feature that I used in Snow Leopard has been dropped. I used to love moving the cursor over a window that wasn’t the frontmost selected window and scrolling through the content without bringing the window to the fore. Very handy when scrolling webpages, documents….and Twitter of course. Well, that feature has gone. Why? No idea. See update below – feature is there after all.

Thankfully my biggest fault with Lion was fixed when the first update was released. As mentioned I had a new iMac and there was a horrible bug in Lion that caused the machine to freeze (requiring a switch off and on again) when playing a video after a sleep. Amazed that one got through testing and was part of the final release and it took around 3 weeks before a fix was issued. Years of having bulletproof stability gone in one fell swoop. Since the update though it’s been 100% reliable.

My final groan goes to LaunchPad. This groups applications together and displays them in a view similar to iOS devices. You can create folders by dragging one app over another just like in iOS. When you download an app from the App Store it also animates to install in LaunchPad. But is it any use? Common app’s will launch from the dock and most folk will use Spotlight, an app launcher like Alfred or Launchbar or just navigate to the app’s folder. It feels like an app for a touch screen Mac, not the current gesture driven devices we currently use. Maybe it’s a sign of technologies to come but it doesn’t really fit in Mac OS X. At a push I could see it as useful when launching app’s on my TV connected Mini, but thats a stretch. I also hate that applications from the App Store are installed to LaunchPad and that it pops up on the screen. Only slightly better than installing to the dock but not by much.

One More Thing
Natural Scrolling also known as ‘lets reverse scrolling as you know it and mess with your head’. Basically, current scrolling on Mac and Windows moves the scrollbar – push up, the scrollbar moves up and you move up the page. Natural Scrolling reverses this. Push up to move the page up (not the scrollbar which is often hidden in Lion) and hence move down the screen, exactly as you do on any iOS device. It is optional so you can change the default to work as it did before but I’ve stuck with it and the brain is retrained. I even altered my work Windows setup to do the same. It’s no big deal really although it garnered a lot of press and my gut feel is that it’s been switched for a reason, so why not stick with it?

Closing Thoughts
So that’s Lion. It’s cheap and easy to install but overall this has been the Mac OS X update with least impact for me. Some of the changes are minimal and in some ways a step back. One aspect that has been good is third party app’s have been super stable for me in Lion. Leopard and Snow Leopard upgrades caused me some pain especially with the podcast but I’ve had very little issue with Lion. I’d still say it’s worthwhile upgrading, but if you haven’t already I’d wait now for 10.7.2 which may bring you a little iCloud goodness as well as improved stability. You also really do need a trackpad to take best advantage of Lion – fine for laptop owners but a potential upgrade cost that’s hidden to desktop users. It will be interesting to see how Lion compares with Windows 8 which I have running via VMware so thoughts on that soon.

Update 24/09/2011
A couple of quick updates to the post. Firstly, you can scroll in background windows without selecting them first. I’m sure that wasn’t there when I first installed Lion so maybe the 10.7.1 update enabled it? Not sure. Secondly is another customisation tool for Lion that is free – Deeper from Titanium Software. It has lots of options to change the look and feel of Lion and many of the default apps. Addictive Tips has a great review of Deeper which highlights the many customisation options.

First Run

I’ve had an itch for quite a while. An itch to run. Folk that know me will know I’m not built for running. Always been big and not got a great engine so running is a bit of a challenge. After the hill walks my legs take days to recover and going back to school days, sprints were fine but cross country was awful. Despite all that, I still wanted to give it ago.

I kept putting it off. I was scared…of failure, of running in public. Daft but when you’ve got something like that in your head it can be hard to shake. However, if I want to run a 10k at some point I have to start somewhere so today was the day. Looking at Google maps I planned a straightforward door to door run which would take over 3km. The results are below and in more detail at RunKeeper.

Main snag is that I live on the top of a small hill so whatever I do it will involve a hill of sorts. Kept the pace slow and it was going ok until the incline up Gt Western Road and the climb up Cleveden. I could feel a bit of stich coming on so had to stop. I walked up the hill and ran the last 200 metres. So overall not too bad.

However my legs did feel pretty sore afterwards despite the hill walking, cycling and badminton I do. The impact from running on the road is not to be ignored. The good news though is that I enjoyed the run so the current plan is to do the same route midweek and if that goes well (and assuming my legs feel good tomorrow) then I’ll pay a visit to Achilles Heel and sort out a more appropriate pair of running shoes that will help with the impact on the roads. I may also look into running offroad to help with the impact but baby steps for the moment.

Reason for doing this is twofold. I want to build up a bit more stamina and endurance and also help with the recovery after the hill walks. Secondly, it’s something different and it gets me outside and off the bike (which will still continue). Third (I did say two but who’s counting) is the inkling to run a 10k, maybe before the end of the year. Depends on lot’s of things but it’s good to have a goal when starting these things.

So more posts hopefully soon, even if it is to say my legs are buggered and I can’t go on! One final thing – it’s nice to be using RunKeeper for, you know, running!

RIAT 2011

A few weeks ago I went to my first air show – RIAT 2011. I’d always wanted to attend an air show but never really had the opportunity. What was nice about RIAT was that there was a group of us going (Shak, Tam and Ro), we were all going with a load of photography gear and the tickets worked out a bit cheaper as BAE Systems was a sponsor. What this meant was £10 off the ticket price, free lunch (which was actually pretty good) and use of a BAE Systems marquee…oh, and a free program.

For the weekend I hired a lens to try and take better advantage of the air show. My current lens doesn’t have the reach and while the lens hire cots just under £100, then lens I hired would costs nearer £1300 to buy so it was a bit of ano brainer. What was most disappointing though was the weather. We arrived at RAF Fairford for 07:45 and 5 mins standing in a queue was enough to drench our jeans. We all had waterproof jackets but it was still a poor start. We headed straight for the BAE marquee…which became our home for the next 4 1/2 hours as the rain just wouldn’t stop. The show should have started at 10:00 but instead it was nearer 12:30 before an Apache took to the skies. Unfortunately this meant that some of the aircraft didn’t fly on the Saturday. More annoyingly, the presenter kept telling us over the tannoy about how good the aircraft that wasn’t flying was in practice the day before. Shut up!

However I loved the show. It was great seeing the Apache, The Red Arrows, Eurofighter and the Chinook. I loved the Mustang and Spitfire as well. What I didn’t love was how difficult it was to photograph some of the planes. This was due to a number of issues. Firstly, jets move quickly. Obvious I know but keeping a jet in frame as I snapped was tricky. It was also tricky to keep it in frame and in focus. So many photo’s I took just weren’t very sharp. My biggest issue (apart from lack of skill) was the weather. Initially dark and gloomy, it then changed to dark at one side of the airfield to brighter at the other end. It then changed again to dark at one end and bright blue sky at the other, before ending the day in lovely sunshine. Tricky.

That didn’t stop me trying and by the end of the day I had taken just over 1200 photo’s. After ditching many and cleaning up others in Lightroom I finally got round to publishing 200 photo’s from RIAt on Flickr, handily split into sets.

Probably the aircraft I most wanted to see – the Apache. I’ve loved this since I was a kid, having a large airfix dangling from the ceiling. I couldn’t believe how manoeuvrable it was at the show. It managed a barrell roll. In a helicopter. Awesome.


Also impressive was the Chinook. A massive beast but it was being thrown around the show as if it was a toy.


Full helicopter set can be found on Flickr.

Some amazing displays but the one that stood out was the Rafale. A great 10 minute display with the pilot really pulling out a great show.

French Dassault Rafale B

Also impressive was the EuroFighter but it didn’t do too much at the show apart from look and sound good! Full set can be found on Flickr.

Some great display teams at RIAT with the Red Arrows coming out on top.

The Red Arrows

However special mention goes to the Italian Frecce Tricolori display team. Great colour and variety during there display but lifted by the great commentator. You had to be there to understand why but it did make us all laugh.

Italian Frecce Tricolori

My favourite picture from the displays though was the Belgian display team – Les Diables Rouge.

Les Diables Rouge

It’s not the planes but the pilots. A mixture of concentration and one of them glancing over to the crowd. Love it. Click through to the full display set on Flickr.

A few great old planes on display and I was pretty stunned that when the Vulcan had landed around half of the crowd left – there was still around 2 hours of flying! I guess there’s a lot of love out there for the Vulcan that I didn’t appreciate. Favourite for me though was the Spitfire, seen here with a Mustang.

RAF Spitfire and American P-51 Mustang

The sound it made was great – can’t imagine how hundreds of Spitfires taking off in WWII must have sounded. Full set of classics can be found here on Flickr.

Round Up
So a great day and weekend which wasn’t spoiled by me and Shak being sick – pair of lightweights. Thanks to Tam for putting us up (and putting up with us) and also Lynne for the great cooking. Pleased to have seen so many great planes but don’t think I’ve caught the airshow bug. One was enough…for now.

Beinn Bhuidhe

The final, for me anyway, Arrochar Alp was Beinn Bhuidhe and yesterday seemed to be a fine day to tackle this munro. It was rated more difficult and required a four mile walk before beginning the climb but for me this was probably my hardest walk.

We started early from the head of Loch Fyne on our 4 mile walk. First mistake of the day was heading through the quarry. Think of the Doctor Who episodes from the 70’s and 80’s which were all set in quarries and you’ll get the idea – not exactly picturesque. We cracked on and it was pertty warm/muggy even though it was only 09:00. After 4 or so miles we were starting to wonder where the path was for Beinn Bhuidhe. We kept walking until we got to a sheep dip on the map, thinking that maybe this was the route up? After 10 mins of discussion we cracked on until we had walked 5 miles – we were then convinced we had missed the path but never mind – lets crack on up the hill and we’ll find it soon enough.

Beinn Bhuidhe Route Guidance

In case you’ve stumbled on this website looking for advice look at the map above. The path is halfway between the abandoned house and the stream, directly on your left after you pass through the safety gate. In winter/spring it might be obvious but at this time of year almost impossible to spot. We bumped into a couple of groups later on who had made the same mistake which made us feel a whole load better…one day we will learn.

Anyway, back to cracking on up the hill. We skirted around a small woodland and walked up some steep undergrowth – thick grass and bracken. It was warm and unpleasant and the midges were out in full force. Nice. This was much the same for a lot of the walk. We also got split up and were walking as individuals for much of the first 2/3rds of the walk. Around 600m I had to stop. Was feeling very ropey, sweating buckets and convinced I was going to be sick. Was also thinking Danny had dropped back quite a bit so I may as well wait. 5 minutes later and I was sick. First time on a hill walk that I’ve been that unwell. A few mins later and despite being that far up I was convinced that I should turn back. A couple of mins later I spotted Danny ahead of me – he had taken a slightly different route and was now looking for his lost sunglasses. A quick shout and he buddied up with me for the rest of the walk and I carried on. Big thanks to him – he will now be known as sherpa Dan.

View from Beinn Bhuidhe

The walk up was great after 800m. Some ridge walking and we also found a path! Finally! The views from the top were stunning. Photo’s really don’t do it justice – it was some of the best views from a munro yet. After a quick lunch (half lunch for me as I still felt ropey) we cracked on down following the path this time.


The path from around 500m follows the stream all the way down to the starting point and was steep and pretty awkward in places requiring a wee bit of scrambling and searching for hand holds. In some ways it felt no easier than the route we eventually took although with hindsight it was more straightforward. I’m sure taking the path is also more scenic as there are a few waterfalls to see on the route up. We couldn’t believe how obscure the path was when we reached the start point – no wonder we missed it!

Beinn Bhuidhe Runkeeper

We walked back to the car, this time avoiding the quarry which was a far better option. We also indulged on some ice cream at the car park. I’m sure Bounty ice cream isn’t recommended for an upset stomach but it helped me! As usual, full photo set is on Flickr but not as many as usual – didn’t feel up to it really which is a shame as some of the ridge views were great.

So a tough walk especially on a warm muggy day but the views are stunning. For me, that was the last Arrochar Alp and was actually the most rewarding after The Cobbler despite the heat, sickness, my burnt neck and arms or the extra midge bites I picked up. Well worth doing but start early and if you’ve got the option, take a bike and cycle the first three miles. Your legs will thank you later.